Local COVID-19 cases increase to 1,530, five more deaths reported

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – County public health officials reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths today, raising the total death count to 36, with 1,530 confirmed cases.

San Diego County has seen 316 hospitalizations from the illness, 122 of which have gone into intensive care. There have been 247 estimated recoveries from COVID-19.

The county also reported deaths by racial breakdown for the first time on Wednesday: 15 white, 10 Hispanic/Latino, two Asian and the remaining nine fatalities unidentified by race or ethnicity.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county was estimating the recoveries by taking the last known positive tests for the illness, waiting two weeks and then subtracting any loss of life. It is a rough estimate, but does give some semblance of the county’s picture, he said, noting it was similar to how Johns Hopkins University tracked cases and recovery worldwide.

Fletcher added that the county would take all the time needed before lifting restrictions on public gatherings, citing the mistakes made in past pandemics.

“Early actions helped us buy time,” he said, referring to both local and state leaders quickly issuing states of emergency and preparing for an extended health crisis. “They helped prepare us for a day in the future to ease some of these health orders. But we’ll be very gradually coming out of our current posture.”

Fletcher went back 102 years to the influenza pandemic of 1918, in which some communities that had locked down to avoid an initial wave of cases then lifted restrictions too soon and suffered fatal consequences. That flu killed 366 of San Diego’s then-75,000 residents, or about half a percent of the city. Nearly 50 million people died in that global pandemic, believed to be the deadliest in history.

In San Diego County, nearly half the total deaths from the pandemic have been reported in the last two days. Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said while the statistics were striking, they may not represent any significant trends.

“The increase in deaths should be no cause for alarm, as the number of deaths frequently lags behind the number of cases,” she said Tuesday. “Most of the deaths have been reported since yesterday, obviously, but have occurred in the last several days.”

Wooten said the county sees a similar lag every year in influenza season, as the process of completing a death certificate may take several days while new confirmed positive cases are more immediately reported.

Even so, this is an illness without a preferred target, Wooten said.

The age range of positive-testing patients range from 3 months to 100 years old, and the mortality rate ranges from 25 to 100. Fletcher reported hundreds of medical professionals had responded to a county request to join the medical reserve corps, a volunteer emergency medical response group. He said 550 medical clinicians had volunteered, 200 non-medical but related professionals — those with experience in hospital administration for example — and 574 other volunteers had yet to be assessed.

Fletcher said these professionals were “in ready reserve” in case they were needed to fight the pandemic.

Dr. Nick Yphantides, the county’s medical director, echoed a call made Tuesday by the San Diego Blood Bank asking for plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients. He said this “convalescent plasma” had shown some effectiveness in early treatment studies. A collaboration between the blood bank, the county and hospitals was something they were pursuing “enthusiastically,” he said.

Wooten also clarified a statement she and Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of epidemiology, made Tuesday, when they urged county residents to avoid experimental treatments for COVID-19, stressing that there was no known cure for the illness.

On the subject of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication touted multiple times by President Donald Trump, Wooten said “we are not recommending this medication.” She added that some hospitals had seen some use, in a non FDA-approved capacity, in some select patients on a case-by-case basis.

“This particular drug is not FDA indicated for this use,” McDonald said.

He said many medical studies were underway around the world to address exactly this issue, but no scientific research confirmed efficacy.

Trump “has a small personal financial interest” in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine, The New York Times reported Monday.

Fletcher reported the county had distributed more than 1.88 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including 782,000 N95 respirators and 355,000 surgical face masks.

The county’s number of confirmed outbreaks of the illness remained static at 25 total. Of those, 17 took place in congregate living facilities and were responsible for 108 positive cases and 11 deaths. The other eight outbreaks could be tracked to 33 cases and one death.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher expressed gratitude to county residents who were taking shelter-in-place orders seriously.

According to county data, local travel has dropped significantly, including a 50% drop in retail traffic, a 64% drop in public transit traffic and 51% less traffic at parks.

Chula Vista laid off roughly 350 part-time and seasonal city employees near the end of March, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Tuesday. Most of those employees worked at the city’s public libraries, parks and recreation centers.

The layoffs, which happened March 27, came as a direct response to closures of the city’s nonessential services because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the newspaper.

More than 800 unsheltered individuals are transitioning to San Diego’s Convention Center as a temporary homeless shelter. The San Diego City Council approved a $3.7 million state grant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among homeless San Diegans.

More than 1.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been distributed from county supplies, including more than 748,000 N95 respirators.

The county reported 523 unused ventilators at 22 of the region’s 23 hospitals.

On Tuesday, authorities began citing essential businesses that have not complied with the requirement to post social-distancing and sanitization guidelines near the entrance of their businesses.

All employees of grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants open for to-go orders, fast-food eateries, convenience stores and gas stations must also wear a facial covering at all times as part of a county health order that went into effect at midnight Saturday.

Although the county is not mandating that residents wear face coverings, essential businesses can deny entry to customers whose faces are not covered, Fletcher said Monday.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local San Diego News