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San Diego County Reports 3,815 New COVID-19 Infections As Hospitalizations Increase

A sign at a City Heights corner store advising people to socially distance du...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A sign at a City Heights corner store advising people to socially distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dec. 25, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials reported 3,815 new COVID-19 infections and 37 deaths Wednesday as well as a record number of hospitalizations.

The new cases mark the third-highest number of infections reported in a single day, behind a record 4,478 cases reported Friday, 4,427 on Saturday and the 37th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new diagnoses.

Cases have crossed the 2,000 mark in 27 of the past 28 days after Tuesday's 1,814 broke a 26-day streak. The 3,000 mark has been crossed 11 times since the start of the pandemic.

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

Hospitalizations resulting from the virus rose to a record 1,664 on Wednesday. Of those, 384 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units. The number of available, staffed ICU beds in the county dwindled to 39.

County health officials attribute the increasing number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths to gatherings over the holidays and the presence of the new coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7. that was first detected in the United Kingdom.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said it's likely the number of hospitalizations will continue to increase, as we're in the 21-24 day "lag" period between rising cases and rising hospitalizations.

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The county's cumulative cases now number 176,662 and the death toll rose to 1,691. Of 26,320 tests reported Wednesday, 14% returned positive.

Kaiser Permanente San Diego began delivering second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations this week for the first health care workers who met "Phase 1a" criteria for vaccination at Kaiser's two hospital locations — the San Diego and Zion Medical Centers.

"This is a big milestone. We're encouraged by this protection for our workforce and await the arrival of additional vaccine that can be distributed per the CDC guidelines," said Dr. Michael Lalich, Kaiser Permanente San Diego's area medical director.

"We are committed to educating our communities about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. We want everyone to understand how getting a vaccine, along with the simple public measures already in place — wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing — will help to bring an end to this pandemic."

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The county reported 24 confirmed diagnoses of the more virulent strain of the virus on Tuesday, bringing the county's confirmed cases of the variant to 28. The cases were confirmed by whole genome sequencing and the four probable cases are directly linked to the confirmed cases and have positive diagnostic nucleic acid tests, but are not yet sequenced.

There have been no deaths locally connected to the variant.

The variant was first found in the United States last week in Colorado. The first San Diego case was confirmed in a man in his 30s with no history of travel, who first became symptomatic Dec. 27 and tested positive Dec. 29. He was hospitalized and contact tracing was initiated.

The 24 newly confirmed patients are believed to have no travel history and come from 19 different households, but the investigation and contact tracing are ongoing, the county's Health and Human Services Agency reported.

New cases have been identified in San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa and Lakeside. While the four youngest cases are in children under 10 and the oldest is over 70, the average age of the variant cases is 36 — the same as the overall average for all confirmed cases in the county to date.

"The fact that these cases have been identified in multiple parts of the region shows that this strain of the virus could be rapidly spreading," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer.

Hours after being elected chair of the Board of Supervisors, Nathan Fletcher and fellow board member Nora Vargas on Tuesday night announced a plan to revamp the board's approach toward managing and helping defeat the pandemic.

Fletcher said he will present the new, overarching COVID-19 "framework" next Tuesday, which he said would override previous "actions and statements that contradict having a response based on data and science"; prioritize funding based on a "data-driven approach to targeted communities of need, taking into account health equity"; stress working "collaboratively instead of antagonistically with the state"; and pledge that the county will "rely on data, science and (rational) decision-making to keep us safe."

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