San Diego County coronavirus death toll tops 200 as libraries, casinos get reopening dates

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A half-dozen additional San Diego County COVID-19 deaths and 113 new infections were reported Thursday, bringing the death toll to 200 and the total number of confirmed cases to 5,391.

County health officials also reported 3,998 COVID-19 tests Thursday, a single-day high. More than 92,000 tests have been administered since the pandemic began.

The two-week rolling average dropped again, with 3% of Thursday’s tests proved positive. According to Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the expanded testing is allowing the county and its hospital partners to test more people who aren’t obviously sick.

“As we continue to expand testing, we’ll see those numbers go down,” he said. “This is expected.”

The region’s hospitals currently have 380 COVID-19-positive patients, with 146 of those being treated in intensive care units. Since the pandemic began, 1,047 people have been hospitalized, 321 of whom spent some time in an ICU.

An estimated 3,364 people have recovered from COVID-19 in San Diego County.

Meanwhile, the county appeared to soften its stance Thursday in regard to tribal casino reopenings, a day after announcements that operations will be restarted on Monday at the Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine, followed next Wednesday by the Sycuan Casino Resort and on May 22 by the Valley View Casino & Hotel.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said there was a “long and dark history of white people” telling American Indians what they can and cannot do.

“It’s not my place to tell them what to do,” he said.

On Wednesday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said reopening the casinos next week would cause a risk to public health. When asked Thursday if she still felt that way, Wooten said she had met with tribal leaders, reviewed their phased reopening plans and reassessed the county’s role.

“It’s very clear to us that the tribal nations have sovereign authority,” she said. “Our strategy is to review and offer advice.”

All three casinos are on tribal land, meaning they are not subject to the same state regulations that have restricted most business operations in California, which is in Phase 2 of a four-stage reopening plan. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines for reopening the state have casinos in Phase 3..

Bingo and poker will not be part of the phased reopening at Sycuan. Restaurants will operate for limited hours, and gaming areas will require appropriate spacing between players and staff, casino executives said.

Table games will be limited to a maximum of three players per table and every other slot machine will be turned off to create space between players. Patrons and staff will have to have their temperatures checked, wear masks at all times and maintain physical distancing.

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

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 allowed to reopen include car washes, pet grooming businesses, landscaping businesses and outdoor museums, but operators must first fill out the safe reopening plan located on the county’s website.

All businesses must practice strict hygiene and physical distancing and adhere to health screening guidelines. Face coverings are required for all employees, including in offices.

Beginning May 26, the county will begin reopening some branches of its library system for curbside service. In the first wave, branches in Imperial Beach, Alpine, Ramona, Encinitas, Vista and Borrego Springs will resume limited service, with other county branches to follow shortly thereafter.

Cox said people with overdue library books could breathe easy and “reread some of the good ones,” as the county wonn’t enforce fines for the time being.

The county Health and Human Services Agency announced Thursday that qualified older adults in the region can now sign up to get three free and healthy meals a day delivered to their home for a limited time through the “Great Plates Delivered” program.

The initiative is a collaboration between the county and local restaurants. The goal of the program is to help older adults, who are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, avoid going out to restaurants or grocery stores to get food. The meal delivery is scheduled to run through June 10, though it may be extended.

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