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San Diego County Reports 264 New COVID-19 Cases, 6 Deaths

A sign advising of coronavirus precautions at the entrance of Sprouts grocery...

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A sign advising of coronavirus precautions at the entrance of Sprouts grocery store in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego County. Sept. 13, 2020.

San Diego County could regress into the state's most restrictive public health tier due to increasing COVID-19 numbers, with Gov. Gavin Newsom rejecting a county effort to discount the 722 positive tests recorded by San Diego State University since the semester began.

The county could find out next Tuesday if it will slip back to the "purple" tier of the state's coronavirus reopening roadmap. If so, it would likely shutter indoor operations for restaurants, houses of worship and gyms, limit retail businesses to just 25% capacity and have major impacts on indoor business for most other industries until the county can improve its numbers.

Data released this week showed one of the two metrics the state monitors being flagged as "widespread," which could potentially lead to the added restrictions.

Reported by Shalina Chatlani

County Supervisor Greg Cox said Wednesday he was writing a letter to Newsom to ask for considerations in excluding SDSU cases, or for other alternatives to avoid rolling back business openings.

But Newsom said he isn't inclined to overlook the SDSU cases. The governor said the county can't separate cases at a university because it goes to "what a community by definition is — and that is integrated individuals, and as a consequence you can't isolate as if it's on an island, a campus community that is part of the larger community. So the answer is no."

According to Dr. Eric McDonald, the county's epidemiology expert, the vast majority of those students live in the 92115 ZIP Code around the university — many just a few blocks off campus. He said that while it is true they are technically in the community at large, they are close enough to campus to make the county's request to exclude those positive tests from the countywide number a realistic endeavor.

McDonald said fewer than 10 known cases in the overall community are linked to interaction with SDSU students, and the university is ramping up its COVID-19 testing protocols through a new random surveillance testing program, which requires all students living on campus to be tested for the virus.

RELATED: Governor Won't Exclude SDSU COVID-19 Cases From County Figures

The surveillance program began Wednesday, with around 500 students to be tested every day through Saturday, then starting again Monday.

All students living in SDSU residence halls and apartments will be assigned testing slots at either the Student Health Services Calpulli Center, or the HHSA testing location at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

Students will be notified of their assigned testing window, along with instructions on what to do, through their SDSU email address.

The university has not received any reports of faculty or staff who have tested positive, SDSU health officials said, nor have any cases been traced to classroom or research settings.

SDSU reported 37 confirmed and nine probable cases Wednesday. The school is playing an outsized role in the county's 7.9 new daily cases per 100,000 population, the San Diego Public Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, said Tuesday. The positive testing percentage for the county is 4.5%, good enough for the "orange" tier of the state's four-tier reopening plan.

Should the county have a case rate higher than 7.0 next week, it could be moved into the purple tier — the most restrictive. However, if the numbers from the university are removed from the equation, San Diego County suddenly drops below the mark to remain in the "red" tier.

San Diego County public health officials reported 264 new COVID-19 infections and six deaths from the illness Wednesday, raising the region's totals to 43,445 cases and 784 deaths.

Of the 8,644 tests reported Wednesday, 3% returned positive, moving the 14-day rolling average of positive tests to 4.4%, well below the state's 8% guideline. The seven-day average number of tests performed in the county is 7,838.

Of the total positive cases in the county, 3,349 — or 7.7% — have required hospitalization since the pandemic began, and 787 — or 1.8% — were admitted to an intensive care unit.

County health officials reported five new community outbreaks on Tuesday. In the previous seven days, 17 community outbreaks were confirmed. Two of the new outbreaks were in businesses, and one each in a residence, grocery store and faith-based setting.

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

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