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San Diego County Officials Urge Caution Around Holidays As COVID-19 Cases Surge

A sign in the sand reminds beachgoers to wear a mask at Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas, Dec. 15, 2020.
KPBS Staff
A sign in the sand reminds beachgoers to wear a mask at Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas, Dec. 15, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials urged residents to avoid large holiday gatherings as they reported 2,598 new COVID-19 infections and 39 deaths from the virus.

County Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Greg Cox pointed to a massive uptick in cases after Thanksgiving — including the region's highest daily total coming three weeks after the holiday with 3,611 cases reported Friday.

"We cannot ignore the reality that we are in a bad place right now," Cox said. "We're making a special plea to avoid large gatherings with those outside your immediate family. This one time, this one year."


He said if people have already traveled, to please be extra cautious about spreading the virus.

County COVID-19 testing sites will be open Christmas Eve, but will close at 4 p.m.

On Christmas, the sites at University of San Diego, San Marcos and the Tubman Chavez Community Center will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

A complete list of sites, how to make appointments and hours can be found online.

RELATED: Tracking COVID-19 In San Diego County


The cases reported Wednesday mark the 23rd consecutive day with more than 1,000 cases. It was also the 16th day overall with more than 2,000 new cases. With 3,252 COVID-19 infections reported Monday, 3,611 Friday, 3,493 Saturday, 2,807 Wednesday and 2,604 cases Thursday. The five highest daily case counts have all occurred in the past week.

The county's cumulative cases increased to 134,696 while the county's death toll is now 1,350.

According to Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, 44.1% of the county's cumulative cases — or 59,394 cases — have been reported after Thanksgiving. San Diego County is on pace to report another 600 deaths due to the virus before the end of January, she said.

Another 32 people were hospitalized in Wednesday's data, with another five sent to intensive care units, raising the number of hospitalized due to COVID-19 to 1,405 and the number in ICUs to 348 — both records.

The 11-county Southern California region is still reporting zero available ICU beds. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the regional stay-at-home order imposed by the state for the entirety of Southern California will almost assuredly be extended beyond next week's expiration date.

Current stay-at-home orders took effect at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 6, and were originally set to end on Dec. 28. Newsom did not give an indication of exactly when a decision on extending the orders will be made or much longer the orders will remain in place.

San Diego County's ICU bed numbers reflect a little space, with 19% availability.

However, Fletcher revealed the 19% is only indicative of beds, not the staffing required to handle patients in them. Mental and physical attrition among frontline doctors and nurses means staffing levels have declined to the point where only 33 ICU beds are realistically available.

"A bed by itself does not treat you, it needs to be staffed," he said. "Staff are tired, sick and burning out."

He said ambulances are being diverted to different hospitals to treat patients, and reiterated an anecdote he made last week regarding hospitals having to reschedule serious procedures such as cancerous tumor removal and organ transplants.

A total of 102,550 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrives in San Diego County for civilians — 28,275 from Pfizer and 74,275 from Moderna — Wooten said Wednesday

First priority is going to civilian acute health care workers. San Diego County is home to 82,623 people working in hospital or psychiatric facilities, and 39,755 of them are considered "highest risk" and will first receive vaccines.

An undisclosed number of vaccines for military personnel arrived at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton last week as well.

Twelve new community outbreaks were confirmed Wednesday: three in businesses, two in TK-12 school settings, and one each in a construction setting, a daycare, an emergency medical setting, a food processing facility, a government office, a grocery store and a healthcare setting. In the past seven days, 44 community outbreaks were confirmed, tied to 164 cases.

A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.