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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County public health officials Tuesday reported 1,814 new COVID-19 infections, 56 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations.

It was the 36th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new infections, but the first time in 26 days that the number reported did not surpass the 2,000 mark. The 3,000 mark has been crossed 10 times since the start of the pandemic.

The number of deaths reported was the third-highest, after 62 deaths reported Wednesday and 58 reported on New Year’s Day.

County health officials are attributing the increasing number in deaths to gatherings over the holidays and the presence in the community of the new coronavirus variant — known as B.1.1.7.

“Each of the 56 people who lost their lives to COVID-19 during this reporting period was someone’s parent, sibling, friend or spouse, as well as a valued member of our community,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer. “These deaths are a sobering reminder that we must all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The latest deaths involved 26 women and 30 men who succumbed to the virus between Dec. 2 and Jan. 3. A dozen were in their 90s, 13 in their 80s, 13 in their 70s, 13 in their 60s, four in their 50s, and one person was in their 20s. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said 50 had underlying medical conditions, with medical histories pending for the other six.

The county reported 62 new hospitalizations and 10 new intensive care admissions, bringing the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to a record 1,609. The number of patients in ICU beds totaled 380.

The county’s ICU bed capacity is at 20%, according to county health officials, although with staffing issues, the reality is likely much lower. The current intensive care unit bed availability for the Southern California region remains at 0%.

The cases reported Tuesday of the more contagious strain bring the county’s confirmed cases of the variant to 28. The cases were confirmed by whole genome sequencing and the four probable cases are directly linked to the confirmed cases and have positive diagnostic nucleic acid tests, but are not yet sequenced.

There have been no COVID-19 deaths locally connected to the variant, but one woman had to be hospitalized. She is now at home recovering, according to the HHSA.

The variant was first found in the U.S. last Tuesday in Colorado. The first San Diego case was confirmed in a man in his 30s with no history of travel, who first became symptomatic Dec. 27 and tested positive Dec. 29. He was hospitalized and contact tracing was initiated. Three additional cases were reported Dec. 31.

The 24 newly-confirmed patients are believed to have no travel history and come from 19 different households, but the investigation and contact tracing are ongoing, the HHSA reported.

New cases have been identified in San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa and Lakeside. While the four youngest cases are in children under 10 and the oldest is over 70, the average age of the variant cases to date is 36 — the same as the overall average for all confirmed cases in the county to date.

“The fact that these cases have been identified in multiple parts of the region shows that this strain of the virus could be rapidly spreading,” Wooten said. “People should be extra cautions to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19, especially this variant, which research has shown is more contagious.”

The county has asked all testing labs with the capability to identify the new strain to forward specimens for genome sequencing to determine if they are indeed cases of the variant. Local doctors have also been requested to forward COVID-19 positive tests from patients with a travel history to the United Kingdom or other places overseas where variants have been detected.

Two new community outbreaks were reported Tuesday, one in a business setting and one in a retail setting. In the last seven days, there have been 44 confirmed community outbreaks, defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

In another development, San Diego County Fire Department spokesman Thomas Shoots announced a rotating vaccine schedule between San Marcos, Escondido and Rancho San Diego for first responders.

“The partnership between local fire and health agencies has built the framework for the vaccination process going forward, and will ultimately provide all first responders in San Diego County the opportunity to get vaccinated for COVID-19,” he said.

The county’s cumulative cases now number 172,847, and the death toll rose to 1,654.

A record 4,478 cases were reported Friday, followed by the second- and fourth-highest numbers — 4,427 Saturday and 3,520 Sunday.

Of 19,182 tests reported Tuesday, 9% returned positive, dropping the 14-day rolling average to 12.9%.