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County Leaders Urge Caution As San Diego Reports 1,217 COVID-19 Cases, 16 Deaths

Awaken Church Balboa Campus in Kearny Mesa on Dec. 2, 2020.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Awaken Church Balboa Campus in Kearny Mesa on Dec. 2, 2020.

San Diego County health officials reported 1,217 new COVID-19 infections and 16 additional deaths today as county leaders urge caution heading into the holiday season.

Wednesday's data raises the county's totals to 84,638 cases and 1,035 deaths while hospitalizations continue to surge.

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported 739 coronavirus patients hospitalized as of Wednesday, with 209 of them in intensive care units. That compares to 723 reported Tuesday, with 197 of them in the ICU.

The number of people with COVID-19 in area hospitals has nearly tripled from one month ago — 288 were hospitalized on Nov. 1. The 739 is also double the previous peak in mid July.

Of the 84,638 cases logged in the county since the start of the pandemic, 4,726 — or 5.6% — have required hospitalization and 1,038 patients — 1.2% — had to be admitted to an ICU.

The total number of people hospitalized for any reason in the county is 4,448 — fairly consistent with the past several months — but the percentage of COVID-19 patients in the region's hospitals rose from 6% a month ago to 16.6% on Wednesday.

Video by Roland Lizarondo

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, also raised attention to 77% occupancy of the county's ICU beds. Of the 696 ICU beds in the county, 538 are currently occupied — 209 by coronavirus patients, or 39%.

What's driving coronavirus surge? Check out the KPBS Trigger Tracker

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher offered a chilling reminder that statistics on COVID-19 are delayed due to the virus' incubation period.

"We expect this to get worse before it gets better," he said.

Supervisor Greg Cox urged county residents to take the pandemic seriously, even as we get closer to winter holidays.

"This is not the year for caroling, this is not the year for ugly sweater contests," he said.

While an influx of cases tied to Thanksgiving gatherings has not been seen yet, both supervisors thanked the majority of families for staying safe during the holiday.

Fletcher also advised religious followers to worship in outdoors and maintain distance.

On Saturday, the county broke its previous policy of not revealing the locations of community outbreaks by announcing Awaken Church on Balboa Avenue was the site of a community outbreak and asked those who attended in- person services from Nov. 15-22 to quarantine for 14 days and monitor for COVID- 19 symptoms. The church has continued to hold indoor religious services in violation of county orders.

On Wednesday, the county expanded its outbreak advisory to include two other locations of the church, at 1760 Descanso Ave. in San Marcos and 861 Showroom Place in Chula Vista. County officials are advising anyone who attended services at those churches between Nov. 15-22 to get tested for COVID- 19. As of Wednesday, the three outbreaks constitute 64 cases.

"We recognize the role religion and faith play in people's lives, particularly in trying times," Fletcher said. "But the building does not constitute the faith."

Wednesday marked the 22nd consecutive day more than 600 new cases have been reported and the 10th day of the last 13 more than 1,000 new cases were reported — including two days over the Thanksgiving weekend with more than 1,800 new infections.

A total of 21,701 tests were reported Wednesday, with 6% returning positive, raising the 14-day average to 6.3%.

On Tuesday night, San Diego State University confirmed it was canceling its normal five-day spring break and instead giving students four "rest and recovery days" scattered throughout the spring semester — on Feb. 12, March 8, March 30 and April 15. These days are intended to provide mental health breaks for students and faculty during the pandemic.

According to a university statement, "rest and recovery days are specifically designated for no instruction, no assignments, no deadlines and no exams. Office hours, meetings and committee obligations will be suspended during each rest and recovery day."

A total of 17 community outbreaks were confirmed Tuesday. Over the previous seven days, 81 community outbreaks were confirmed. A community outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

San Diego County fell deeper into the most-restrictive purple tier of the state's four-tiered reopening plan on Tuesday, with an unadjusted 30.5 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Even with an adjusted rate of 15.3 per 100,000 due to significant testing increases by local health authorities, that number far exceeds the strictest tier's baseline of seven daily cases per 100,000.

The testing positivity percentage is 2.3%, keeping it in the orange tier for that metric.

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