County: 117 new COVID-19 cases, 5 more deaths

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County officials continue to reopen portions of the economy — including county offices — but could come into conflict with local tribal casinos as those businesses plan reopenings in the next two weeks.

As the county balances the reopening of some businesses amid calls to reopen, 117 new positive COVID-19 tests and five deaths were reported Wednesday. The total number of positive cases rose to 5,278, while the five deaths bring the total number of fatalities to 194.

The ages of the deceased range from 56 to 97, and all had underlying health issues, according to Public Health Services.

Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine announced plans last week to reopen on May 18, and Sycuan Casino Resort plans to open May 20. Local casinos have been closed for nearly two months.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said the county had a problem with those dates.

“We do not agree with the reopening of casinos on May 18,” she said. “Opening of casinos will cause a risk to our public health. That is clear.”

Bingo and poker will remain closed as part of the phased reopening at Sycuan. Restaurants will operate for limited hours and gaming areas will require appropriate spacing between players and staff, officials with the business said. Table games will be limited to a maximum of three players per table and every other slot machine will be turned off to further encourage space between players. Patrons and staff will also be required to undergo temperature checks, wear masks at all times and practice physical distancing.

Both casinos are on tribal land, meaning they are not subject to the same state regulations that have limited most business operations in California.

Wooten said that while the public health order is voluntary on tribal lands, county officials may reach out to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for guidance on how to enforce health orders should the casinos and local government not come to an understanding.

Greg Cox, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, announced some county offices would begin opening to the public for limited services over the next several weeks, beginning Friday with administration buildings and the department of environmental health. The county’s offices in Kearny Mesa will open May 18 and offices in Escondido and National City will follow shortly thereafter, Cox said.

Health officials said the percentage of positive tests has fallen for one week straight, with just 3% of the 3,541 COVID-19 tests reported to county health officials returning positive. The county has recorded 88,097 tests and the two-week rolling average is 4.9% positive.

Officials estimate 3,238 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the county, while 1,019 have been hospitalized since the pandemic began and 316 have spent some time in intensive care. Currently, 385 people are in the hospital related to COVID-19, 142 in the ICU.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county had developed guidelines for large drive-through events such as drive-through graduations, as some of the region’s high schools are proposing. These guidelines include remaining in the vehicle, not allowing any concessions, restrooms or spectators and limiting vehicle occupants to members of the same household.

Office-based businesses were permitted to reopen Tuesday, although Fletcher said county health officials still “strongly encourage telework.”

Malls — indoor, outdoor and strip malls — are also allowed to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery only. No customers are allowed inside stores and outside pick up points should be clearly marked.

Other businesses or services able to open include car washes, pet grooming businesses, landscaping businesses and outdoor museums.

These businesses can open as soon as ready, but must first fill out the safe reopening plan located on the county’s website.

All businesses must follow hygiene, physical distancing and health screening guidelines. Face coverings are also required for all employees, including employees in office settings.

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