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SD County Reports 286 New COVID-19 Cases As It Considers Suing State

A coronavirus safety advisory sign at the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park on A...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A coronavirus safety advisory sign at the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park on Aug. 30, 2020.

San Diego County health officials have reported 286 new COVID-19 infections and three deaths tied to the illness, raising the region's totals to 44,293 cases and 760 deaths as the county considers taking legal action against the state should reopenings for some still-closed businesses be rolled back this week.

The three additional deaths occurred from Sept. 12 to Sept. 16 and ranged in age from 47 to 77. Two of the three people who died had underlying health conditions, but the 47-year-old, a man from East County, had no underlying health problems.

Of the 9,263 tests reported Saturday, 3% returned positive, bringing the rolling 14-day average of positive tests to 3.8% — potentially a good sign as San Diego County appears poised to regress into the state's most restrictive public health tier due to increasing COVID-19 numbers, a decision that could be made Tuesday, when state data is released.

On Thursday night, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors met in a closed session to discuss taking legal action against the state to prevent that slide back into that most restrictive tier after Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected a county effort Wednesday to discount the more than 700 positive tests recorded by San Diego State University since the semester began.

The county will find out 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.

RELATED: COVID-19 Purple Tier Would Clamp Down On Indoor Business Operations

Should the county be placed in that tier, it would have to wait a minimum of three weeks before moving back to less restrictive tiers.

Data released this week showed one of the two metrics the state monitors being flagged as "widespread."

Ultimately the supervisors did not make a decision on taking legal action against the state in their meeting Thursday, but Supervisor Greg Cox said the board will meet in closed-session Monday after receiving more information, "to consider any further actions."

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was vague about the closed meeting Thursday, but urged caution.

"In general, I believe we should be fighting COVID-19 and not the state of California," he said. "We do not yet know what our case rate will be next Tuesday and will have to evaluate that number in order to understand any possible impact."

SDSU 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 next week, it could be moved into the purple tier — the most restrictive. However, if the numbers from the university were removed from the equation, San Diego County would suddenly drop below the mark to remain in the "red" tier.

RELATED: Sewage Testing For COVID-19 At UCSD Leads To Two Infected Workers

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.

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.

County health officials reported three new community outbreaks on Thursday. In the previous seven days, 22 community outbreaks were confirmed.

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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