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County residents without severe COVID symptoms urged to stay away from ERs

People walking in front of Palomar Medical Center Escondido emergency room, July 1, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
People walking in front of Palomar Medical Center Escondido emergency room, July 1, 2021.

San Diego County residents were being urged Thursday to avoid emergency rooms for COVID-19 testing, amid increases in both hospitalizations and staffing shortages exacerbated by a surge in coronavirus infections.

The county Health and Human Services Agency recommended that people worried about COVID-19 infection and others seeking COVID-19 testing only go to a hospital to be tested if they have severe symptoms.

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"Do not go to an emergency department just to get tested, and only go when you have symptoms that need emergency care," said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county deputy public health officer. "If you're experiencing no COVID-19 symptoms, have mild illness or have not been exposed to someone who tested positive, go to one of the many testing locations available in the region."

Together, all testing sites in the county have the capacity for around 45,000 tests daily. The HHSA said rapid antigen tests, which are available at many local pharmacies, are a good option if a testing site is unavailable. Those who test positive on a rapid should follow the healthcare guidance and generally do not need a confirmatory PCR test unless instructed by a doctor.

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"Currently, there is a high demand for COVID-19 testing, so we're asking San Diegans to be patient as testing traffic can surge and sites can be very busy," Kaiser said.

A total of 8,204 new infections and eight deaths were reported in the county's latest data, released late Wednesday. The cumulative totals for the region increased to 465,607 cases and 4,495 deaths.

A total of 24,730 tests were reported Wednesday, and the seven-day average positivity rate was 25.3% up from 24.1% on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals continues to climb at a pace not seen since August, according to the latest state figures. There were 717 people in the county hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, up from 682 on Tuesday, 664 on Monday, 628 on Sunday, 590 on Saturday, 510 on Friday and 475 on Thursday.

Of those patients, 141 were in intensive care, up 20 from the previous day. The number of available ICU beds increased by seven to 188.

Some COVID-positive patients may have been hospitalized for other reasons and had their COVID status discovered by hospital-mandated tests.

A statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks in indoor public settings will remain in place until at least Feb. 15, the state's Health and Human Services secretary announced Wednesday, pointing to rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

The state imposed the mandate on Dec. 15, and it had been scheduled to expire on Jan. 15.

Among the indoor public spaces affected are retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public.

Due to rising COVID-19 numbers and an anticipated mid-January surge following holiday celebrations, San Diego State leaders on Wednesday announced that SDSU would begin its spring semester virtually.

The semester, scheduled to start Jan. 19, will remain virtual through at least Feb. 4. Return to in-person instruction is scheduled for Feb. 7.

All students, faculty and staff eligible for the COVID-19 booster will be required to have their booster on file in HealthConnect by Jan. 18 to be considered fully vaccinated, according to guidelines announced last month by the California State University system. The Jan. 18 deadline remains in place, SDSU said.

SDSU campuses will remain open during the two-week virtual period, but nearly all classes and labs will remain remote with a few in-person exceptions.

Additionally, SDSU asked residential students to delay returning to campus until Feb. 5 or Feb. 6 if they are able to do so. However, on-campus housing will continue to be open as scheduled for students who are unable to delay their return.

UC San Diego began a planned two weeks of remote-only classes Monday in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Students and faculty, regardless of vaccination status, are required to complete a COVID-19 test on the day they return to campus for winter quarter. People who are not vaccinated and those who are vaccinated but have not received a booster shot are required to test for the virus two times per week, between three and five days apart.

Remote-only instruction also began Monday at other University of California campuses.