Viejas Casino opens to capacity crowd, governor loosens restrictions

Tuesday 19th May 2020

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine welcomed a capacity crowd and a line out the door today as the first of four tribal

casinos to open this week despite coronavirus stay-at-home rules keeping some other businesses shuttered.

Viejas and the other casinos are on tribal land, meaning they are not subject to the same state regulations that have limited other business operations in California. Sycuan Casino Resort plans to reopen Wednesday, Jamul Casino Thursday and Valley View Casino & Hotel Friday.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, said the county health department disagreed with the casinos' timing but lacks jurisdiction to block the action.

Wooten said she reviewed the reopening plans for Sycuan, Vallew View and Jamul, but had not seen any such plan from Viejas. The three opening later this week had some limitations, such as bingo and poker remaining closed, restaurants operating for limited hours and gaming areas requiring appropriate spacing between players and staff. Patrons and staff also were to undergo temperature checks, wear masks at all times and practice physical distancing.

Videos taken by reporters and the public Monday at Viejas Casino showed a line outside the gambling establishment -- which reportedly reached capacity by 11 a.m. Most of those in line outside appeared to wear masks and respect social distancing requirements.

In the meantime, San Diego County health officials reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths on Monday, raising the totals to 5,946 cases and 211 deaths.

At the same time - citing decreasing coronavirus hospitalization and ICU rates statewide - Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced a relaxation of restrictions that could allow more businesses to reopen more quickly in a majority of the state's counties. Newsom also said that if the current trends continue, the state may be able to significantly ease restrictions statewide in the next few weeks.

Officials in many parts of the state - including San Diego - have been pushing to reopen more sectors of their economies. Local officials, including San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher have pointed to what they viewed as unrealistic benchmarks counties needed to meet to accelerate business reopenings. One of those guidelines mandated that counties have no deaths from COVID-19 for a two-week period, which Fletcher said would "never happen" with a county the population of San Diego unless vaccinations or other

therapeutic treatments became widespread.

The looser restrictions announced by Newsom include requirements that counties have no more than a 5% increase in hospitalizations over a seven-day period, have no more than an 8% positive rate among people tested for coronavirus and have 15 trained patient-contact-tracing workers per 100,000 population.

The governor said he was encouraged by recent statewide statistics that have shown a 7.5% decrease in coronavirus hospitalizations over the past two weeks, an 8.7% decline in intensive-care unit patients in that same period and an "unprecedented number of masks" and other personal protective equipment being distributed throughout the state.

Fletcher posted a response to Newsom's revisions on Twitter.

"Today, Governor Newsom revised guidance to allow counties to move into Stage 2 (of the reopening plan). We believe we meet the requirements and will get an update from our public health officer at tomorrow's board meeting.

This would allow in-person dining and in-person retail (under state guidance),'' he wrote.

Newsom also announced a $125 million state relief program to provide financial assistance to undocumented immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic. Fletcher said the Jewish Family Service of San Diego would oversee both San Diego and Imperial counties' Immigrant Disaster Relief Fund.

Applicants for the disaster relief fund locally may apply for a one- time sum of $500. A household will be limited to $1,000. Interested applicants should call 858-206-8291 to get more information.

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