Steve Goble: "We have a lot of residents who don't have the luxury of working from home."
How to fight the virus in the year ahead? A post-holiday surge of cases is expected, and getting most people vaccinated will take more than a few months.
Any tool that might help slow the spread in the hardest hit areas is worth looking into, as El Cajon city councilmember Steve Goble sees it. Last week, his proposal for a pilot program that would give air purifiers to low-income residents was turned down by the city council.
Five percent of El Cajon has already tested positive for Covid, far more than the county rate of 3.3 percent. Of the 18 cities, El Cajon and National City are "kind of going back and forth with the first and second highest rate," said Goble, who wanted to use $50,000 in grant funding for the project.
After talking to a hospice nurse and first responders working in El Cajon, he was convinced. "The calls they're responding to right now, especially in apartment complexes, they use the words 'infection is on fire.'
We've got density, we've got household infection, we've got low income. We also have a lot of residents who don't have the luxury of working from home."
The county "is not telling us statistics for Covid by census tract so we can know for sure if low income areas are disproportionately higher. But what we do know from county data is that in the first two weeks of December, 39 percent of those who tested positive for covid said a member of their household had it."
The city packs 7,103 people per square mile, compared to San Diego's 4,441 people per square mile.
"In a high density situation there's really no way to isolate like you can in a 2,800- or a 2,000-square-foot home," Goble said. The project would apply to apartments and houses up to 1,000 square feet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, a recent study suggests that "transmission within households is high, occurs quickly, and can originate from both children and adults."
But even though household transmission of Covid-19 is common in the U.S., few studies have looked into it further.
Goble says the county doesn't support the idea because they don't want people to get a false sense of security. "I'm disappointed that they don't include that as a recommendation, especially with the number of cases being caught from a household member. What is there to lose?
The city has $200,000 left from the first round of pandemic funds for low-income people for rental assistance, over $600,000 unallocated, and more will soon be on the way.
Several different products were considered out of hundreds, with the most likely option costing $520 and covering 1500 square feet. The program would be administered by Homestart, and 88 households already qualify. The units could be ready by the end of January. On May 31, Homestart would measure how many people using a purifier caught Covid.
Both the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency say certain air purifiers can help reduce transmission, along with masks and handwashing, but council members were skeptical.
Would households keep up with all the other precautions?
"What would keep the recipients from selling the units?" asked councilmember Michelle Metschel. "If you've got to pay rent or buy groceries, a $500 unit will buy a lot of groceries."
And how would success be measured?
City manager Graham Mitchell said staff was unable to find any other cities using air filtration to reduce the virus. At the same time, not many cities have the kind of high concentration of cases El Cajon is experiencing. "So we would be on the cutting edge of utilizing these funds."