Officials in San Diego warned city employees about the deadly hepatitis A outbreak twice before Mayor Kevin Faulconer made any public statements about the spreading infectious disease outbreak, according to emails released this week.
The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained emails that tell the story:
The email exchanges — most of which were labeled confidential — were released to the The San Diego Union-Tribune under the California Public Records Act.
The initial alerts to city workers and to more than 11,000 vendors doing business with City Hall were issued in May. Employees were warned about the threat again in August.
Faulconer first mentioned the crisis in a public statement in September, four months after city and county officials first met about the health crisis.
County public health officials began informing city leaders about the outbreak in mid-April, emails show. City officials monitored the increasing caseload before meeting with the county in early May.
Within days of that May 4 discussion, San Diego leaders began organizing mass vaccinations for the city workforce.
Critics have said both the city and county failed to act — and that when they finally did, it was too little, too late, in spite of information revealed in the emails that painted a clear picture of a crisis in the making.
The outbreak has already spread to Los Angeles, and threatens to infect other Southern California counties with large and growing homeless encampments, like Orange County.
The initial email communication was sent to city workers as early as May 5. It reportedly “advised employees of the police and fire departments, libraries, the park and recreation department, environmental services, transportation, storm water and environmental services that they may be at risk for exposure.”
What didn’t happen was urgent, coordinated action.
City and county officials met in May, but in spite of the fact that three people were already dead from the infection and over 80 had been hospitalized, they did not take action until August — and then it was simply to publish informational posters. They waited until September to place temporary hand-washing stations and portable toilets downtown.
It wasn’t until September that Mayor Kevin Faulconer finally issued the city’s first official public statement about the hepatitis outbreak. By that time, over 400 people had been hospitalized, and 15 people had already died.