COUNTY MOVES CLOSER TOWARD REOPENING, AS GROWTH IN COVID CASES SLOWS BUT DEATH TOLL MOUNTS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilima Wooten urges everyone to wear masks in public to prevent spread of COVID-19.

April 22, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – The growth curve for new  COVID-19 cases is showing signs of slowing locally, even as San Diego County reported 15 new deaths, bringing the total  deaths to 87. Meanwhile officials offered insights on what it will take to begin lifting local restrictions.

Update on local cases

The 15 new deaths reported for April 16-20 ranged from age 43 to 92. All but one had underlying medical conditions. The County has confirmed 2,434 cases to date, including109 new cases announced yesterday.  Of those total cases 24.3% required hospitalization, 8.2% wound up in intensive care and 3.6% died.

Goals to lift restrictions

To begin a phased reopening and lift some County Health officer restrictions, the County will use five federal criteria and state recommendations.

The County has met three of the five federal criteria that need to be met before proceeding to a phased opening.

Criteria Met

  1. The County has experienced a 14-day downward trajectory in the number of people with influenza-like illness (ILI) at local emergency departments. From March 16 to April 15, the percentage of ILI in the County dropped from 10% to 3%.
  2. The number of positive COVID-19 cases or positive cases as a percent of the total tests administered had to experience a 14-day downward trajectory. Since April 6, the County has experienced a decreasing percentage in positive COVID-19 tests among San Diegans.
  3. The local health care system has been able to handle the number of patients needing hospitalization for COVID-19 and other illnesses and diseases. Currently, local hospitals are operating at 68% of their capacity.

“We will continue monitoring these data to see if this trend holds,” says County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten.

Criteria in Progress

  1. The County has to register a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period. Since April 4, this trend has varied and syndromic indicators for COVID-like cases is being monitored daily.
  2. There also needs to be a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers, including emerging antibody testing. The County has organized a Laboratory Task Force of local hospitals, relevant clinics and commercial laboratory systems to expand testing and ensure the safety of testing personnel.

Testing

Regional testing capacity recently has been expanded to about 3,400 tests per day, including rapid testing at the County Public Health Lab and some local hospitals.

The list of priority groups for testing also has been expanded to include people who are homeless and people in long-term care facilities. Other groups to be added include people who are HIV positive, low-income individuals, as well as members of various racial groups and Native Americans. 

Reopening in Phases

Planning also is underway for a phased opening of recreation activities that would include county parks, trails, beaches, watersports/boating, golf courses, basketball and tennis courts and open spaces, all with certain restrictions in place. (Note: The city of San Diego has just allowed opening of some neighborhood parks, only for individual activities such as walking, jogging or dog walking, but not larger parks such as Balboa Park or city beaches.)

Large gatherings and organized team activities would remain prohibited for a longer period across the county, other than those involving household units.

The guidance for the general public remains the same. You should:

  • Stay home unless you’re an essential worker.
  • Cover your face when in public.
  • Practice physical distancing and stay six feet apart from other.
  • Continue practicing good handwashing hygiene.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and isolate yourself from others. Call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse.

“If you leave your place, cover your face,” Wooten reiterated.

COVID-19 Cost to County Government

The County is spending an average of $14 million each month to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the region. The funds are being spent on multiple mitigation activities, including:

  • Surveillance, contact tracing and emergency response.
  • Ventilators, lab testing and personal protective equipment.
  • Care and shelter needs for at-risk individuals, including people who are homeless.

It is estimated that the above activities will cost the County $60 million by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The County will be seeking reimbursement from federal and state resources, and will be looking for other funding sources at they become available.

More COVID-19 Information

The County’s COVID-19 webpage contains additional information on COVID-19, including a graph showing new positive cases and total cases reported by date. The data is also broken down by gender, race and ethnic/race group. An interactive dashboard with several COVID-19 indicators is being updated daily. For more information, visit coronavirus-sd.com.


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