Amid Health Crisis, San Diego City and County Officials Play the Blame Game

Southern California’s hepatitis A outbreak is pitting county and city officials in San Diego against one another, with each side placing blame on the other for what has become one of the region’s most pressing public health concerns.

As Voice of San Diego reports, city officials are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of data they’re receiving vis-à-vis the specific locations of deaths and outbreaks from the county. The dearth of information has left cities like San Diego, Chula Vista, and El Cajon in the lurch and forced to rely on complaints or best guesses to identify vulnerable areas.

But county officials say they have no choice. The lack of specifics is a result of strict state and federal privacy laws combined with the inherent difficulties of tracking homeless individuals. Plus, they’ve got some complaints of their own.

“May 4 we proposed the wash stations and city said no,” claims county spokesman Michael Workman. “Two weeks later we offered to pay for them, still no.”

Critics, including some from county government, believe this absence of portable toilets and wash stations contributed to the crisis. Workman also believes the city should have acted earlier and more forcefully in its initial response to the outbreak.

Over to Greg Block, spokesman for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

“We never had any issues with the installation of hand washing stations, except they had to be self-contained and in compliance with (permits),” Block said.

“The county is our public health agency,” he added. “They have the expertise on public health matters that the city does not. As a result, we take our direction on public health issues from them.”

Meanwhile, the human toll continues to rise. There have been nearly 500 cases and at least 17 deaths in San Diego so far and the disease is spreading into new locations and demographics all the time. Santa Cruz has reported 70 cases of hepatitis A. Los Angeles has seen 10. And while homeless individuals and drug addicts have comprised the majority of infections, the virus is contagious, so the general public is always -- and increasingly -- at risk.

A Thursday update from health officials didn’t instill much more hope. Even with proper prevention efforts, an epidemiologist with the CDC told reporters they believe the outbreak could persist for up to two more years.



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