The Coast News Group
Starting today, everyone who goes out in public in National City is required to wear a face covering. Courtesy photo

County health officials announce 15 deaths, 109 new confirmed cases

REGION — In the wake of a weekend with relatively few new COVID-19 cases and deaths reported, San Diego County health officials announced an increase of 109 confirmed cases and 15 deaths on Tuesday, raising the totals to 2,434 cases and 87 fatalities.

That marked the deadliest day since the pandemic began and the most new cases in nearly two weeks.

“We’re not out of danger yet,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox.

The ages of the deceased range from late 60s to early 90s for six women and early 40s to mid-80s for nine men. All but one had underlying health conditions, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.

The number of San Diegans who have been hospitalized due to coronavirus complications increased to 592 Tuesday, with 199 in intensive care units — 30 and 10 more, respectively, than Monday. According to county data, there have been 1,367 documented COVID-19 recoveries.

Despite the increases in positive cases and deaths, the county is preparing for a path to reopen some outdoor spaces sooner rather than later. Cox said the county was working in conjunction with municipalities throughout the region to create plans for parks, beaches, golf courses and other public outdoor spaces to open — with some catches.

Any plan to reopen — being considered only after the April “month of action” has ended — includes gradual phases of openings including social distancing, facial coverings, and a maintained ban on groups outside of the same household.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher warned that opening the county’s public spaces up with no restrictions too soon would cause a second spike of cases and deaths — and that’s only if the county has reached the peak of cases and deaths, which he said is not clear.

“When we reopen, it will not be a political decision and it will not be an emotional decision,” Fletcher said.

Wooten said the county would measure five metrics when weighing listing 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.

The proportion of positive test cases has been on a downward trend for the past two weeks, Wooten said, as have the number of influenza-like illnesses — with 3% of emergency department visits fitting that category, down from 10% in mid-March. However, the trend of COVID-like illnesses has either plateaued or is increasing slightly, at a little more than 3.5% of emergency room visits.

Currently, the region’s hospitals are about 68% full, Wooten said, only about 7% of which involve either COVID-19 positive or under investigation cases.

A 250-bed field hospital planned for Palomar Medical Center is expected to be put in place today, county officials said.

The extra beds will increase the region’s ability to cope with a surge of COVID-19 patients and will be set up on the vacant 10th and 11th floors of the Escondido hospital.

Of all positive coronavirus cases, 24.3% of the patients have been hospitalized and 8.2% sent to intensive care, for a 3.6 mortality rate. Those statistics track fairly closely to percentages seen around the country and the world.

Of the deaths, 56% have been white, 30% Latino, 11% Asian and around 1% each for black, Pacific Islander and patients of multiple races.