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SAN DIEGO — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer called the reopening of dine-in restaurants and in-person retail stores “a major victory” for the city Thursday while turning the spotlight to the region’s science leaders working to combat COVID-19.

Faulconer heralded the state’s decision from late Wednesday allowing San Diego County to move ahead through stage 2 of California’s reopening plan. The new guidelines allow for residents to return to local stores and restaurants which have made modifications to accommodate customers and employees after being closed for about two months.

Faulconer said the reopenings are about “getting accustomed to a new normal,” allowing many area workers the “opportunity to earn that paycheck once again.”

“Last night was a major victory for our small businesses to help on that road to recovery,” he said.

The reopenings continue a trend as the county and its health partners have ramped up COVID-19 testing, repeatedly topping single-day testing highs in large part due to new sites opening. On Thursday, the county reported 175 new cases of the coronavirus and 11 more deaths, bringing the area’s cumulative total to 6,315 cases and 241 deaths.

To date, the county has conducted 120,559 tests for COVID-19, including 4,722 tests Wednesday.

Much of Faulconer’s news briefing Thursday was spent highlighting local scientific leaders who have made national headlines lately for their efforts to find both treatments and potential vaccines for the coronavirus. They included Biocom President and CEO Joe Panetta; Dr. Henry Ji, chairman and CEO of Sorrento Therapeutics Inc.; and Dr. Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development at Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Faulconer said he’s been “so proud” of San Diego’s life science companies, adding “the importance of science and research has never been more evident.”

“You’ve seen a lot and learned a lot in the news about testing and vaccines and therapeutics, and how they represent really our best opportunity to defeat this virus for good,” he said. “All of that work — a lot of it — is happening right here in San Diego in our labs across the whole region.”

In his brief remarks, Panetta said the company has created a 45-member return-to-work taskforce to develop guidance and secure resources to allow employees back into its facility. Some workers have remained working in the company’s lab for the duration of the pandemic, he said.

He spotlighted the work of several local institutions including the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the Scripps Research Institution.

“In the life science industry, San Diego continues to be at the forefront of efforts to combat this novel coronavirus across the state and across the U.S.,” Panetta said.