County COVID-19 cases close in on 2,500, deaths near 100

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County health officials reported 57 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths Wednesday, raising the county’s totals to 2,491 confirmed cases and 96 deaths.

The nine deceased — three women and six men, ranging in age from 38 to 99 — all had underlying health issues, said Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s director of epidemiology and immunizations.

The county has reported 24 deaths from the respiratory illness over a two-day period, the deadliest two-day stretch since the coronavirus outbreak began.

McDonald said the seeming uptick in deaths may not indicate much about the direction the pandemic is taking locally. Calling deaths a “lagging indicator,” he noted that physicians have eight days to file death certificates and the nine deaths reported Wednesday occurred over a four-day period from last Friday through Monday.

Deaths are not being used as an indicator to make decisions such as when to loosen or lift public health orders, McDonald said.

The number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 rose to 611 on Wednesday, and the number of patients being treated in intensive care units climbed to 206, representing increases of 19 and seven, respectively, from Tuesday.

The county and regional hospitals have now completed more than 36,000 tests, with a positive test rate of around 6.8%. The county estimates that 1,434 people have recovered from COVID-19, but it does not have an exact, verifiable recovery number.

Of all positive-testing coronavirus cases, 24.5% of the patients have been hospitalized and 8.3% sent to intensive care. Nearly 4% of COVID-19 patients have died, a rate higher than most jurisdictions are reporting.

“This is one of several indicators that there are undiagnosed cases in our community,” McDonald said.

Of the 96 people who have died of the disease, 51 have been white, 28 Latino and nine Asian. The race of four of the deceased is unknown.

Despite the increases in positive cases and deaths, the county is preparing for a path to reopen some outdoor spaces sooner rather than later. Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox said Tuesday that he 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.

A 250-bed field hospital is being set up at Palomar Medical Center. The extra beds will increase the region’s ability to cope with a surge of COVID- 19 patients and will be set up on the vacant 10th and 11th floors of the Escondido hospital.

In National City, all community members must wear face coverings “anytime they leave their home and are in public settings,” effective Wednesday, according to a statement from city officials.

The city council unanimously passed an emergency order Tuesday mandating the practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making National City the first city to do so in San Diego County.

Riverside County was the first in California to make face coverings mandatory earlier this month.

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