The Coast News Group
The county is amending its previous public health order to include the authority to close beaches and parks if municipalities are unable or unwilling to enforce social distancing. Courtesy photo

County health officials threaten to close beaches to mitigate virus spread

REGION — San Diego County health officials announced today that if cities cannot maintain safe social distancing procedures at their parks and beaches, the county will close them to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We encourage outdoor exercise as long as people maintain 6 feet of social distancing,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer. “It looks like people are not able to do that.”

The county is amending its previous public health order to include the authority to close beaches and parks if municipalities are unable or unwilling to enforce the 6 feet of social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

The county’s step follows a city ordinance that all public parking lots at parks and beaches in the city of San Diego will remain closed to discourage gatherings and encourage social distancing amid the pandemic.

City officials took the step Sunday in response to crowds gathering over the weekend, and the ordinance went into effect this morning.

“Public health officials are clear that gatherings of any size can lead to the spread of COVID-19, which is why they continue to be prohibited everywhere, including at beaches and parks,” San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell said in a statement Sunday. “Local and state rules limiting groups have been in effect for days, so this should not be a surprise to anyone.”

The city of Oceanside also closed all beach parking lots and public playgrounds.

Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland said people can still walk, run or ride a bike, as long as they abide by social distancing rules, which advise people to stay 6 feet away from others.

The first COVID-19 death of a San Diego resident was reported Sunday by San Diego County Health Department officials, who also confirmed 46 new cases of the disease, bringing the number to 205, a jump from 159 cases the day before. Updated numbers are expected to be announced later this afternoon.

The unidentified San Diego resident, who was in his early 70s, was being cared for in Santa Clara County, county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said at briefing Sunday afternoon. She said he had recently returned from a trip to Hawaii, but no further information about the death was released.

Of the 205 people in the county with positive diagnoses, health officials said 178 are county residents, 11 are in federal quarantine and 16 are not county residents. Of the 41 patients who have been hospitalized, 32 are county residents.

Fifteen of those hospitalized were in intensive care units, as was one non-county resident.

San Diego County’s chief medical officer said Sunday that the availability of respirators and the capacity of intensive care unit beds has improved. Dr. Nicholas Yphantides said at a Saturday briefing that when he
looked at some of the data, he saw “something pretty remarkable. The availability of ICU beds and the number of respirators that are available has actually grown.”

In other developments Monday:
— The city of San Diego announced that the entirety of Golden Hall and parts of the Convention Center will be converted to homeless shelters with hundreds of beds. Mayor Kevin Faulconer also said the county’s nine bridge homeless shelters with public nurses will convert to screening and triage centers.

A family shelter already exists in Golden Hall, and those families will be moved to hotel rooms for the duration of the quarantine. Single women already in shelters will be transferred to the Golden Hall beds later this week, and the majority of the remainder of existing shelter populations will be moved to the convention center at a later date.

— San Diego prosecutors at the city, state and federal levels announced joint efforts to combat hate crimes and predatory business practices by individuals or businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies say they are responding to reports of discrimination and harassment against Asian Americans and immigrant populations related to COVID-19, as well as price gouging of products like food, hand sanitizer and protective masks.

— The hospital ship USNS Mercy departed Naval Station San Diego today for Los Angeles in support of the nation’s coronavirus pandemic response efforts. It’s team of medical professionals “will act, in essence, as a
‘relief valve’ for local civilian hospitals in Los Angeles so that local health professionals can better focus on COVID-19 cases,” said Navy Capt. John Rotruck, Mercy’s military treatment facility commanding officer. “We will use our agility and responsiveness as an afloat medical treatment facility to do what the country asks, and bring relief where we are needed most.”

U.S. Pacific Fleet officials announced Sunday that seven sailors who were aboard San Diego-based ships have tested positive for COVID-19.

Two sailors tested positive Friday and five more tested positive Saturday, according to a statement on Sunday from U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs office, which said the seven are isolated off ship and restricted in movement in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

“Personnel who were immediately identified as having close contact with these sailors have been notified, placed in a restriction of movement status at their residences off the ship and are being monitored,” the
statement said. The Navy didn’t say which ships the sailors who tested positive were on, but the ships involved are screening all personnel coming aboard and undergoing deep cleaning with bleach twice a day.

A sailor from Naval Base Coronado reported symptoms of COVID-19 to his supervisor last Tuesday, according to officials from the base. He tested positive on Friday and is now restricted to his residence, receiving medical care, and personnel who had close contact with him were notified and were self-
quarantined at their homes.

Three Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar have also tested positive for the virus, leading to new health protections on that base.

— Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order Thursday night, advising residents not to leave their homes except for essential needs.

Essential services remain open, including gas stations, pharmacies, banks, laundromats, and places to obtain food, including grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, take-out and delivery restaurants.

Any other public event or gathering is considered non-essential and is banned under the order until further notice.

Under the stay-at-home mandate, all gyms and fitness centers are closed. The mandate also restricts childcare to “stable” groups of 10 children with one childcare provider.

The “stable” vocabulary refers to the same group of 10 children each day and the same provider each day. If a daycare or related business has more than 10 children, each group needs to be in separate rooms and cannot intermingle. Social distancing is encouraged even among the subgroups.

The health orders banning gatherings do not apply to public transit, airports or any other mass transportation. The Metropolitan Transit System said it would continue running buses and trolleys at least until March 31 with ramped-up sanitization procedures on vehicles and at stations.