SAN DIEGO (CNS) – In the wake of a weekend with relatively few new COVID-19 cases and deaths reported, San Diego County health officials Tuesday announced an increase of 109 confirmed cases and 15 deaths, raising the totals to 2,434 cases and 87 fatalities.
This makes for the deadliest day since the pandemic began and the most new cases in nearly two weeks.
“We’re not out of danger yet,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox.
The ages of the deceased range from late 60s to early 90s for six women and early 40s to mid-80s for nine men. All but one had underlying health conditions, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.
The number of San Diegans who have been hospitalized due to coronavirus complications increased to 592 Tuesday, with 199 in intensive care units — 30 and 10 more, respectively, than Monday. According to county data, there have been 1,367 documented COVID-19 recoveries.
Despite the increases in positive cases and deaths, the county is preparing for a path to reopen some outdoor spaces sooner rather than later. Cox said the county was working in conjunction with municipalities throughout the region to create plans for parks, beaches, golf courses and other public outdoor spaces to open — with some catches.
Any plan to reopen — being considered only after the April “month of action” has ended — includes gradual phases of openings including social distancing, facial coverings and a maintained ban on groups outside of the same household.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher warned that opening the county’s public spaces up with no restrictions too soon would cause a second spike of cases and deaths — and that’s only if the county has reached the peak of cases and deaths, which he said is not clear.
“When we reopen, it will not be a political decision and it will not be an emotional decision,” Fletcher said.
Wooten said the county would measure five metrics when weighing listing public health orders.
Those metrics, designed by the federal government, are:
— a downward trend in influenza-like illnesses;
— a downward trend in COVID-like illnesses;
— a downward trend in percentage of total tests turning up positive for COVID-19;
— treating patients with a normal level of staff and resources and not using emergency resources;
— robust testing in place for at-risk health care workers.
The proportion of positive test cases has been on a downward trend for the past two weeks, Wooten said, as have the number of influenza-like illnesses — with 3% of emergency department visits fitting that category, down from 10% in mid-March. However, the trend of COVID-like illnesses has either plateaued or is increasing slightly, at a little more than 3.5% of emergency room visits.
Currently, the region’s hospitals are about 68% full, Wooten said, only about 7% of which involve either COVID-19 positive or under investigation cases.
Of all positive coronavirus cases, 24.3% of the patients have been hospitalized and 8.2% sent to intensive care, for a 3.6 mortality rate. Those statistics track fairly closely to percentages seen around the country and the world.
Of the deaths, 56% have been white, 30% Latino, 11% Asian and around 1% each for black, Pacific Islander and patients of multiple races.
Last weekend, protesters took to the streets in cities across the country — including San Diego and Encinitas — to demand the reopening of parks, beaches and “nonessential” workplaces. The protests — locally about 200-strong in Encinitas and involving several hundred at the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego — drew both praise and condemnation.
The Rev. Shane Harris, leader of the San Diego-based People’s Alliance for Justice, called Monday for San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit to issue citations to the organizers of the downtown event.
“This is racial entitlement at its finest,” Harris said. “There were several hundred gathered in San Diego County. Most, if not the majority, were white Americans.”
Harris said that if “people of color” had attempted such a protest, the police presence would have been much higher.
San Diego police officers kept a watchful eye on the protesters Saturday, but did not issue any citations.
“We have decided not to enforce the law at this time,” according to a police statement released that day. “We welcome people to voice their frustrations and concerns in a peaceful way. We hope after they’ve done so, they’ll disperse.”
Harris said he spoke to Nisleit about his concerns and told reporters he was not trying to make it a political issue, rather a fairness issue. He said he respected the message and goal of the protesters — a reopening of the county — but implored organizers as well as authorities to enforce social distancing and face covering protocols.
A statement issued Monday said the SDPD and the sheriff’s department recognize “this fundamental right (to protest) while balancing it with the need to enforce the public health orders. Although the protests were allowed to take place, we must not forget the public health orders were put in place to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19. While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these events.”
Some politicians supported at least part of the protesters’ message. County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey both called for the reopening of the region’s beaches.
“Surfing in the ocean should not be a crime,” Bailey said in a public Facebook post on Saturday. He has since started a petition to reopen public spaces.
Businesses should begin planning now on how to reopen and maintain public health orders, Fletcher said, so they will not be caught unprepared if there is an opportunity to reopen in May.
The San Diego Economic Recovery Advisory Group met for the first time on Monday to develop a framework for a phased re-opening of San Diego County’s economy once the threat of COVID-19 has been tamed.
The group, which was announced Friday, consists of local “civic and business leaders” representing a variety of industries that can advise how best to safely reopen for business, and how to have the local economy thrive in a business environment so widely impacted by COVID-19.