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County Awaits State Guidance After Third Day Of Sub-100 Per 100,000 Case Rate

A man walking at the pond in Balboa Park on June 14, 2020, the first weekend ...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A man walking at the pond in Balboa Park on June 14, 2020, the first weekend Balboa Park reopened following the coronavirus closure.

For the third day in a row, San Diego County public health officials reported a case rate of fewer than 100 positive COVID-19 tests per 100,000 people Friday, however, the state said it will have to review data before removing the county from its monitoring list.

Previously, county and state officials had said if the rate stays below 100 per 100,000 people — it was 96.3 Friday — for three consecutive days, the county would officially be removed from that list. After an additional 14 consecutive days below that number, K-12 schools could potentially reopen for in-person teaching, depending on individual school district metrics.

Additionally, 48 elementary schools have filed waivers with the county to return to school early.

That timeline is now uncertain, as is the timeline of reopening certain businesses for indoor operations.

As the county awaits further guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom, public health officials reported 406 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths Friday, raising the county's totals to 34,056 cases and 622 deaths.

Four women and three men died between Aug. 6 and Aug. 13, and their ages ranged from 49 to 94. All but one had underlying medical conditions.

Of the deaths reported thus far during the pandemic, 96% had some underlying medical condition. According to Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, the leading underlying causes which helped contribute to death were hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, dementia/Alzheimers and chronic kidney disease.

RELATED: California Governor On The Hot Seat Over Pandemic Response

Of the 9,508 tests reported Friday, 4% returned positive, maintaining the 14-day positive testing rate at 4.6%, well below the state's target of 8% or fewer. The 7-day rolling average of tests is 7,688 daily and the county has reported 708,389 tests since the pandemic began.

While signs look positive for the region, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher warned county residents Thursday against getting complacent.

"We are seeing progress, but we are in the middle of a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line right in front of us," he said. "Our goal is not just to have the rate of cases fall below 100 per 100,000, but to keep it there."

Of the total positive cases in the county, 2,823 — or 8.3% — have required hospitalization since the pandemic began, and 703 — or 2.1% — were admitted to an intensive care unit.

County health officials also reported four community outbreaks Friday, bringing the number of outbreaks in the past week to 24.

The latest outbreaks were reported in a business, a restaurant/bar setting and two in other places of business, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

The number of community outbreaks remains well above the county's goal of fewer than seven in a seven-day span. An outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households in the past 14 days.

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Latinos are still disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with that ethnic group representing 61.3% of all hospitalizations and 45.4% of all deaths due to the illness. Latinos make up about 35% of San Diego County's population.

A new COVID-19 testing site began operating Wednesday at the San Ysidro Port of Entry PedEast crossing, and County Supervisor Greg Cox cited its immediate success and demand for it, saying its hours would expand Thursday.

The free testing site will now operate from 6:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and will focus on testing essential workers and American citizens who live in Tijuana, according to San Diego County health officials.

No appointments are necessary at the walk-up site, which aims to offer about 200 tests daily. People getting tested will not be asked about their immigration status or who lives with them, health officials said.

"We know that communities in South Bay have been hit the hardest by COVID-19," said Wooten. "The location was selected because of the increase in cases in the region and the number of people, especially essential workers who cross daily."

Fletcher said Tuesday that the county's partnerships with its 18 incorporated communities were allowing law enforcement to step up efforts to punish egregious violators of public health orders.

A visit from county staff is the first action used, followed by a cease-and-desist order and then an order to close. If an entity refuses to close after that order, it will be cited and fined $1,000 — as University Heights gym Boulevard Fitness was on Tuesday, Fletcher said.

"The selfish defiance of the public health orders only hurts those acting in good faith," he said. "This is not out of a desire to be punitive."

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