County reports 278 new virus cases, warns residents not to get complacent

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County public health officials reported 278 new COVID-19 infections and two additional deaths related to the illness Wednesday, raising the region’s totals to 45,425 cases and 767 deaths.

The county’s total cases crossed the 45,000 mark Tuesday, and on Wednesday another milestone was reached when the total number of tests reported topped one million.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, thanked agencies and businesses contributing to testing numbers and said the county would maintain its priority testing for those showing symptoms of the illness.

“Our goal is to test the right people that need to be tested in San Diego County,” she said.

With an average of 8,241 daily tests over the past week, the number of tests returning positive is 3.6% of the total over the last 14 days. The county narrowly avoiding being dropped to the dreaded “purple” tier of COVID- 19 reopening Tuesday, with 6.9 new daily cases per 100,000 population, just 0.1 away from the state’s most restrictive tier.

San Diego County will remain in the red tier at least until next Tuesday, according to state officials.

Of the total COVID-19 cases in the county, 3,450 have been hospitalized with another 813 spending some time in an intensive care unit.

According to county data, 61.5% of those hospitalized with the illness have been Hispanic or Latino, even as that ethnic group represents around 35% of the county’s population. By comparison, 23.3% of those hospitalized have been white, 7.2% Asian and 5.8% Black.

No new community outbreaks were reported Wednesday, bringing the number over the past week to 13, tied to 73 cases.

The number of community outbreaks remains above the trigger of seven or more in seven days. A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

Even as San Diego County grapples with COVID-19, Wooten warned residents to be prepared for another health threat: influenza.

Last flu season the county reported 108 deaths from the illness. Health officials are concerned that a combination of flu season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could place stress on the health care system. Wooten encouraged residents to be safe, but to get a flu vaccine.

“The same strategies to avoid COVID-19 work for the flu,” she said. “The difference is that we do not have a vaccine for the coronavirus, but we do for the flu.”

The news Tuesday that San Diego will stay in the red tier comes as somewhat of a surprise after increasing COVID-19 numbers appeared to set the county on a path toward slipping into that most restrictive tier — which would shutter indoor operations for restaurants, movie theaters, houses of worship and gyms, limit retail businesses to just 25% capacity and have major impacts on indoor business for most other industries until the county can improve its numbers.

In related events, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-1 to support efforts by Wooten “for the adjudication and revised reopening criteria to accurately reflect the dynamics of the pandemic in San Diego County.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond made the proposal toward the end of a special meeting — which included a COVID-19 update from Wooten — on possible options to state policy.

Desmond first proposed sending a formal letter from the board to Gov. Gavin Newsom to once again ask for local control. Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she didn’t know what good another letter would do. Jacob said she learned that COVID is the seventh-leading cause of death in San Diego County, and “that’s not a good thing. This is not going away.”

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher cast the lone no vote, saying the county “ought to just focus on tackling COVID.”

Before voting, the board also heard from members of the public, most of whom urged caution about opening up the county too quickly.

Desmond on Monday held a rally in favor of opening up all businesses. On the same day, Fletcher held a public event encouraging county residents to continue the fight against the virus.

The board has met multiple times in the last few days to discuss its options.

Newsom rejected a county effort to discount the positive tests recorded by San Diego State University since the semester began.

The data released Tuesday did factor in SDSU cases. The push to exclude them was an unlikely gambit because SDSU is located in a highly residential neighborhood in the heart of the city.

Despite the good news about remaining in the red tier, the county is hovering on the brink of being downgraded. State rules require a county be above one of the two metrics — daily case rate by population and positive test rate — for two consecutive weeks before it can be moved.

To move down to less restrictive tiers, both of those metrics must be below state guidelines for two consecutive weeks. Should the county be placed in the purple tier, it would have to wait a minimum of three weeks before moving back to less restrictive tiers.

Testing capacity at the SDSU Alumni Center at 5250 55th St. has been expanded from 500 to 1,000 tests a day and will be open to the public, students and university staff. The no-appointment site will offer testing from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.

SDSU has reported 914 confirmed or probable cases, including four reports of faculty or staff who have tested positive. Of those, 574 are off- campus cases.

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