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San Diego County health officials on Wednesday reported five new COVID-19 deaths, marking the deadliest day locally since the global pandemic began. Courtesy photo
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County COVID-19 cases rise to 849, five more die from the illness

REGION — San Diego County health officials announced Wednesday five COVID-19 deaths — the deadliest day locally since the global pandemic began — and 115 new cases, bringing the total to 849 confirmed cases and 15 fatalities.

The latest deaths related to COVID-19 involved a 90-year-old woman and men aged 83, 74, 73 and 71.

The latest death toll rise comes after the county extended public health closure orders indefinitely that were set to expire. The closure order applies to schools, nonessential businesses, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, and anyone 65 or older should continue to quarantine themselves at home.

Parks in Vista closed in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus by encouraging social distancing. The North County city had 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday.

The closures include all parks, trails, public restrooms, the South Buena Vista off-leash dog area, athletic fields, basketball courts, pickleball courts, playgrounds, skate parks and tennis courts.

Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, San Diego, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and the Port of San Diego closed all beaches, trails and parks in their respective cities earlier last week — all of which remain closed as of April 2.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the month of April “will determine our trajectory as a region. Will San Diego be another Italy or New York? This will be a month of aggressive, intentional action. I believe we can avoid scenes we have seen elsewhere in our country.”

The county reported a total of 533 ventilators in its 23 hospitals — with another 80 ready to be deployed in an emergency — 695 being serviced, 600 requested from the state and 125 ordered from elsewhere.

County officials began reporting cases by ZIP code today, but a spike in areas like Hillcrest and La Jolla were not causes for concern for Dr. Nick Yphantides, San Diego County’s chief medical officer.

“It’s important to note that just because they live in those ZIP codes, they may not have gotten the illness there,” he said. “If you want my honest opinion, it doesn’t make that big of a difference.”

Fletcher agreed, stating that the best course of action, whether a ZIP code has a high number of cases or none at all, was to stay home.

“We believe there are positive cases in every ZIP code in the county,” he said.

Fletcher, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Councilman Chris Ward, Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler and San Diego
Convention Center President and CEO Rip Rippetoe opened the convention center this morning to unsheltered San Diegans.

The convention center was configured to hold more than 900 physically- distanced cots and more if needed — than a month after San Diego residents voted no on a hotel tax designed to expand the facility.

“We have a chance to tackle the coronavirus crisis and the homelessness crisis at the same time,” Faulconer said. “If I can’t fill our convention center with tourists, then I’m going to make sure it’s filled with
hope, with progress, and with San Diegans who can put it to good use. The convention center is a welcoming beacon for people from around the world, and during this pandemic, it will be a beacon of hope for our community.”

The first unsheltered residents were moved into the center by the Alpha Project.

“Here at the San Diego Convention Center, I often remark that our staff and partners build a small city each week for the most important moment in an organization’s year. In this case, we worked with our city, county and community partners to transform approximately 175,000 square feet of space in our exhibit halls for San Diego’s critical moment,” said Convention Center President and CEO Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe.

“And we’ll continue to add space inside the halls, as needed,” he said. “When the time is right, our team will return to hosting conventions and trade shows. For now, we are taking everything we know and everything we’ve learned to pivot into a shelter operation — an urgent, large-scale effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our unsheltered neighbors.”

Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, said this morning his organization was preparing to move single men into the convention center, but was not sure when that would be. Men in tent-like “bridge shelters” will be the first to undergo additional health screenings and moved into the center.

Father Joe’s medical director, Dr. Jeffrey Norris, said the nonprofit had conducted more than 1,000 health screenings in the last two weeks.

Fletcher reported that the first homeless residents of San Diego County had tested positive for the illness, but the county did not usually break down health updates by occupation or state of housing.

One occupation Yphantides was able to pinpoint was law enforcement. He reported an outbreak at the San Diego Police Department. An officer and that person’s partner were confirmed to have the illness and an investigation was underway.

A skilled nursing home in El Cajon was also the site of another outbreak, including one positive case and three suspected case. It is the latest in a series of “congregate living sites” —which can be assisted living facilities, prisons or anywhere where large groups of people congregate in one living location — to have positive tests. Those sites were under strict health protocols and under further investigation, Yphantides said.

San Diego County health officials are working with UC San Diego to secure an empty dormitory for coronavirus patients too sick to go home, but not sick enough to remain in the hospital.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Tuesday that the 200 to 250 beds the dorm will provide will “raise the bar” on the number of beds available for any surge in COVID-19 cases. The “alternative care center” will open in the near future, he said.

Fletcher said county health teams monitor their ability to respond to the crisis with three S’s — stuff, staff and structure. The state has responded by sending a 250-bed mobile field hospital and a 225-bed hospital unit, which Fletcher said comes with staff.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox encouraged residents to continue to go to grocery stores and order takeout food from restaurants while maintaining physical distancing and proper sanitization protocols, even as two employees of a Sprouts Farmers Market in northern Carlsbad tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

A TSA employee at the San Diego International Airport and a worker at an airport vendor have tested positive for COVID-19, 10News reported Tuesday.

The TSA employee worked the 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. shift at the airport’s checkpoint 6, which is located in Terminal 2, and last worked on March 24, according to the news station. The TSA officer is at home resting and other employees who may have had contact with the officer have been notified.

Despite concerns over hospital space, residents with cardiovascular troubles or stroke symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical attention, Yphantides said.

“Don’t be reluctant to seek care if you need it,” he said.

The county also extended public health closure orders indefinitely that were set to expire. The closure order applies to schools, nonessential businesses, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, and anyone 65 or older should continue to quarantine themselves at home.

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