SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego's move into California's red tier coincides with spring break season, which could provide a boon to businesses struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
But experts warn an influx of tourists could also bring a surge of coronavirus cases.
"We need to use caution because we're not out of the woods yet," says Dr. Corinne McDaniels-Davidson, the director of San Diego State University's Institute for Public Health.
"We've learned what can happen if you open too quickly or if you loosen restrictions too quickly, especially after the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas surge upon a surge," Dr. McDaniels-Davidson says. "I think people are a little more cautious now. They don't want to see that happen again."
The TSA recently announced that it screened more than 1 million passengers every day over the last week, the highest level since before the pandemic began. In response, the CDC reissued its warning that people should not travel for non-essential reasons, even if they already received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Still, local leaders in the tourism industry expect a boost in business over the next few weeks.
"There's such a pent-up demand for travel," says Namara Mercer, the San Diego County Lodging Association's executive director. "San Diego has proven that it's a safe city to visit."
Mercer says hotels in the region have already proven they can keep guests safe. Since the pandemic began, they operated without occupancy limits and housed essential workers, people experiencing homelessness, and visitors. Mercer says they know how to establish and enforce safety protocols.
"Hotels in San Diego have been the leaders in getting people back into hotels and visiting safely," Mercer says. "What they do on a daily basis is the same whether there are five people in the hotel or if there are 1000 People in the hotel."
Meanwhile, the move into the red tier means restaurants can now invite customers to dine indoors at 25% capacity. Business owners say that will help them handle any extra crowds they see from spring break visitors.
"It's starting with St. Patrick's Day and then rolling into spring break," says Michael Trimble, the executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association. "Everyone is very excited, and we've all been waiting for this day for quite a long time."
Trimble says the Gaslamp's use of outdoor space on 5th Avenue will help keep visitors safe. His organization holds town halls and other meetings to keep business owners informed of the latest standards.
But it's up to them to enforce the rules.
"We want to be the example of how you should operate," Trimble says. "It comes down to the responsibility and maturity of operators downtown to let people know that these are the rules, and we won't tolerate anything but following protocols."
A recent study found 60% of major colleges canceled or adjusted their spring break plans to keep students from traveling.
Still, images out of Florida last week showed large crowds of people at beaches and bars, many of whom were not wearing masks or social distancing.
Dr. McDaniels-Davidson believes that won't happen in San Diego since the community has put a greater emphasis on safety.
"Florida is different than California," she says. "We have a different culture here, and we are a little more prevention-focused than other states."
She says businesses should be more open about the rules they enforce and can lure customers by advertising how they prioritize safety behind the scenes.
"Tell me you're opening all the doors and windows," she says. "Tell me you're turning over the air five times or more in an hour. Show me the numbers on your co2 monitors so that I know that if I do go inside, it's more like being outside than it is to be in a stale indoor environment. Tell me about the vaccination levels of your staff."
Dr. McDaniels-Davidson calls the next few weeks a "turning point" in the Pandemic. Making sure spring break is safe can keep San Diego on a path towards recovery instead of another surge.