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San Diego County coronavirus cases surpass 20K, officials adjusting testing approach

Officials said they will be adjusting how testing is done in San Diego County prioritizing those with COVID-19 infection symptoms and high-risk groups.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County health officials reported 419 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday bringing the county's total to 20,348. There were no additional deaths reported with the death toll remaining at 422 locally. 

Of the 6,542 tests reported Monday, 6% returned positive, in line with the 14-day rolling average. 

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom's updated health order Monday, all indoor operations in gyms, houses of worship, non-critical office businesses, hair salons and barber shops, indoor malls and personal care services such as massage businesses and tattoo parlors will need to cease at midnight Tuesday.

The state has been seeing record numbers of infections in recent days, along with increasing hospitalizations. As of Monday, Newsom said 6,485 were hospitalized across the state due to the coronavirus. The seven-day rolling average of people testing positive for the virus was 7.7%, Newsom said.

Hospitalizations in California have increased 28% over the past two weeks, according to the Associated Press.

Additionally, the smoke from the fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego could cause potential health problems for those most susceptible to COVID-19, including the elderly and those with heart or lung conditions, health officials said. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher asked residents who smell smoke or experience eye irritation to remain indoors with doors and windows closed and to avoid strenuous exercise.

Officials also said they will be adjusting the manner in which testing is done in San Diego County. Nick Macchione, the director of San Diego's Health and Human Services Agency said the county is partnering with a local company called Helix for additional testing. 

"I'll be clear and frank, it's not a testing windfall," Macchione said of the partnership.

Although the county has averaged more than 8,000 tests per day over the last week, a shortage in testing supplies has stretched supply lines to the limit, County Supervisor Greg Cox said.

Before the partnership with Helix, Macchione said the county was seriously considering doing what some other jurisdictions in the country have done and close state- or county-run testing sites to better consolidate resources. For now, the county can keep all testing sites open and all existing appointments for tests on the books.

Macchione and other health officials said the renewed focus for testing includes prioritizing those with COVID-19 infection symptoms and high-risk groups including: 

  • Healthcare workers, first responders, other social service employees and those in essential jobs
  • Older adults
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People living in residential or group settings, such as long-term care facilities or shelters
  • People exposed to infected individuals in places where COVID-19 risk is high

Dr. Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County Public Health Officer clarified Monday how positive cases are counted citing misinformation and unfounded rumors spreading on social media. 

"I'd like to stress that only laboratory-confirmed diagnostic positive tests are counted in our daily count for positive COVID-19 cases," she said. "The case total does NOT include: suspect or probable cases or people that are on home quarantine unless they have been tested." 

Of the total positive cases, 2,052 or 10.1% have been hospitalized and 538 or 2.6% of cases have been admitted to an intensive care unit.

No new community outbreaks were reported Monday, but the weekly total - - 17 -- is still well above the county's metric of no more than seven in a one-week span.

About 137 of every 100,000 San Diegans are testing positive for the illness, well above the state's criterion of 100 per 100,000. Total COVID-19 hospitalizations have inched up over the last several weeks and now sit at 467, 159 of which are in intensive care units.

"The pandemic is not over," Wooten reminded county residents last week. "The disease is still widespread in our community, as evidenced by the rising cases."

Among those testing positive last week was star jockey Flavien Prat, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 before this weekend's horse races at Del Mar, according to Del Mar Thoroughbred Club officials.

Prat was tested at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla around noon Sunday after returning from a riding assignment in Kentucky. The 2019 Kentucky Derby winner was removed from all the mounts he was set to ride on Sunday and will quarantine at his home for at least 10 days.

Del Mar requires all riders traveling from other jurisdictions to be tested before they race and will test all jockeys and jockey room personnel before its next day of racing on Friday.

"We will continue to be vigilant to ensure the safety of the people who work here and live in our community," Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said.

Despite the spike in numbers, some local leaders believe San Diego County should have the authority to open its businesses. County supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond and San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday evening, asking the governor to rescind orders to shutter indoor business in multiple industries -- including bars, restaurants, museums, cardrooms, zoos and theaters.

"This statewide one-size-fits-all approach to closing entire business sectors is misguided, as evidenced by the many sectors in San Diego forced to close their doors again despite not having contributed at all to the rise in our local cases. As such, we are requesting the review of our county's data to take place as soon as possible, thereby allowing San Diego businesses to reopen if appropriate," they wrote in the joint letter.

"It is time to give local control of this public health emergency to the elected leaders and clinical team closest to the people so that we can begin community specific healing based on local data. We are confident that San Diego County is well-positioned to serve as a model in this effort," the letter said.

Also on Monday, San Diego Unified School District announced campuses will remain closed when the district resumes classes Aug. 31, with all courses remaining online only. The district made the announcement through a joint statement from San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified school districts. 

The statement referenced that due to contradictory, vague and changing guidelines and increased infection rates in the state they believe that delaying the opening of the campuses is the best plan at this time.

RELATED: Coronavirus in San Diego and California: Latest updates and news

RELATED: WHO warns the coronavirus pandemic is worsening globally

RELATED: San Diego Unified campuses to remain closed, classes online-only when school begins on Aug 31

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