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San Diego County reaches 100 coronavirus deaths, launches new testing sites

"We hear you," said Cox, referencing people eager to get outside and resume normal life.
Credit: AP
In this Friday, April 17, 2020, photo, a vial used to collect a nose swab sample is put into a collection bag as members of a team of University of Washington medical providers conduct coronavirus testing at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. More than 100 residents were tested during the visit, and the results for all were negative, according to officials. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — On Thursday afternoon, Chairman Greg Cox, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, and Dr. Wilma Wooten gave a coronavirus update for San Diego County. You can watch the entire update here.

The county announced 152 new positives, which is single largest number of cases announced on a single day according to Fletcher. Fletcher also noted an increase in testing. This means 2,643 people have tested positive out of the 38,689 tested conducted countywide. 

The county also announced four new deaths, which means 100 people have died of COVID-19 in San Diego County. These deaths are approximately 4% of the cases, according to Wooten. 

“Today is another challenging day,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher announced that the county is modifying the public health order for elective surgeries. Fletcher said this will give medical professionals flexibility “based on their clinical needs and their supply capacity.”

Furthermore, Fletcher announced that San Diego County has received $334 million in CARES Act funding.

More than 64,000 surgical face masks have been distributed to healthcare workers in San Diego County over the past 24 hours.

Wooten said the county is opening up drive-thru testing sites in Escondido and Chula Vista starting Monday by appointment. 

“We’re actively looking at how we can loosen restrictions at the end of this month so we can breathe a little easier, but we need to follow the medical data,” said Cox.

Dr. Eric McDonald said on Wednesday 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.

County officials announced plans Wednesday for a phased re-opening of the county beaches and bays once the region meets certain county public health goals regarding COVID-19.

The region-wide plan calls for a two-phase reopening across all coastal cities in the county, which would begin with beaches and bays open initially to walking and running only, according to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Physical distancing would be required, and face coverings strongly recommended.

Gatherings would be prohibited under Phase 1 of the plan, and piers, boardwalks and parking lots would remain closed.

The ocean would be open to all recreational uses, while San Diego Bay and Mission Bay would be open to boating and single-person paddling only.

Under Phase 2, all activities that allow for physical distancing would be allowed at the beaches, bays, piers, boardwalks and parking lots.

The city of Vista announced that its city parks will reopen for "passive use" starting Friday.

Parkgoers will be required to practice physical distancing and will be limited to individual or household unit activities, such as walking, jogging or running. Dogs on leashes will be permitted.

Group activities and active sports will not be allowed, meaning athletic fields, skate parks, playgrounds, and all other areas related to group activities would remain closed until further notice.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, said Tuesday the county would measure five metrics when deciding whether to lift 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. 

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