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Governor Says San Diego County Could Exit State Monitoring List By Tuesday

An electronic sign on state Route 56 in Rancho Peñasquitos on Aug. 16, 2020, advising residents the correct way to wear a mask to stem the spread of the coronavirus in California.
Alexander Nguyen
An electronic sign on state Route 56 in Rancho Peñasquitos on Aug. 16, 2020, advising residents the correct way to wear a mask to stem the spread of the coronavirus in California.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced the first California county was officially removed from the state’s watch list. But even though local officials said it met the criteria last week, San Diego wasn’t the region Newsom named.

The governor said Santa Cruz County was removed as of Friday. However, he said San Diego wasn’t far behind.

Governor Says San Diego County Could Exit State Monitoring List By Tuesday
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

"San Diego we anticipate to come off tomorrow based upon our analysis of the numbers and we look forward to making that announcement,” Newsom said in a live streamed update.

Local officials initially reported the state-calculated rate of new coronavirus cases remained below the threshold for the required three days as of Friday. But a review by California officials found more backlogged cases from an earlier statewide reporting error that altered the rate and delayed San Diego’s removal.

Governor Says San Diego County Could Exit State Monitoring List By Tomorrow

Ahead of the expected announcement, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher warned San Diegans not to celebrate too much.

“It is a moment to remind ourselves that the goal is not just to get below the list, the goal is to stay below the list, which means that as soon as we come off the monitoring list we have to have the same vigilance, the same focus and the same effort to continue to keep our case count low,” Fletcher said.

An additional 282 people tested positive, raising the county total to 34,960. But no more people died leaving that tally unchanged at 626.

If the county remains off the watchlist for 14 days, K-12 schools could open for in-person teaching as soon as September 1, but district officials will make the final call. Elementary schools can apply for waivers now — officials have already received dozens.

Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said there’s no timeline yet for businesses to reopen because the state is still crafting guidance.

“We know that there are some businesses that are low risk or lower risk and some that are higher risk, so what will be the guidance that we will get from the state will come as a result of collaborating and getting feedback from the health officers across the state,” Wooten said. “So until that happens, again, my constant statement is we just have to be patient

The governor, in response to a KPBS question, did not state when he would release those plans but confirmed additional guidance is required before counties can permit establishments to operate indoors.

Wooten also declined to share any specifics she’d like to see in a reopening plan.

The state requires that counties maintain a rate no higher than 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. San Diego County exceeded that in early July and increased to 158.5, but that figure declined in early August.

The county and state have disagreed on how to calculate the case rate and San Diego now posts two separate tallies on its website. But local officials have since explained the difference and verified the state’s calculation is what determines the region’s position on the watch list.

County officials reported the region’s state-calculated case rate dipped below the threshold for the first time when it reached 94.1 per 100,000 on Wednesday. They said that trend continued through Monday when they reported a state-calculated case rate of 89.8.

The state’s public facing website that posts county case rates and other metrics has not been updated since an error prompted hundreds of thousands of test results to go uncounted. The governor said Monday those backlogged cases, including more than 14,800 positives, have since been tallied by the counties where they occurred.

Wooten said although local officials thought they had received all of that data that pertained to San Diego last week, the state’s review of the region’s case rate found some records that had not been included.

“The state went back, reassigned the backlogged tests to the days that they came in and recalculated the case rate,” Wooten said.

County hospitalizations among confirmed and suspected COVID patients are falling in addition to the region’s case rate. The governor said that’s happening statewide and California’s positivity rate is also decreasing. Newsom said positive backlogged cases didn’t greatly affect those trends.

County health officials reported two new community outbreaks, bringing the number of outbreaks in the past week to 21 tied to 96 cases. The latest outbreaks were reported in a grocery store and a grocery/retail setting, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency. The county continues to keep the names and locations of businesses with outbreaks secret.

The number of community outbreaks remains well 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 in a setting and in people of different households in the past 14 days. The county has recorded 48 community outbreaks tied to 250 cases of the illness in the month of August.

As a record-setting heat wave continues to roast Southern California, County Supervisor Greg Cox reminded residents Monday that socially-distanced county "cool zones" would be available at least through the duration of a weather advisory — set through Thursday at 10 p.m.

People visiting cool zones are required to wear masks when inside, and county staff will take temperatures at the door. A map of the cool zones can be found at Coolzones.org.

Of the 6,377 tests reported Monday, 4% returned positive, maintaining the 14-day positive testing rate at 4.3%, well below the state's target of 8% or fewer. The 7-day rolling average of tests is 7,890 daily.

Of the total positive cases in the county, 2,868 — or 8.2% — have required hospitalization since the pandemic began, and 716 — or 2% — were admitted to an intensive care unit. Just 271 people are hospitalized from COVID- 19, and 97 are in intensive care, a dramatic drop-off from even a week ago.

Latinos are still disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with that ethnic group representing 62% of all hospitalizations and 45.7% of all deaths due to the illness. Latinos make up about 35% of San Diego County's population.

A new COVID-19 testing site began operating last week at the San Ysidro Port of Entry PedEast crossing, and County Supervisor Greg Cox cited its immediate success and demand for it.

The free testing site will operate from 6:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and will focus on testing essential workers and American citizens who live in Tijuana, according to San Diego County health officials.

No appointments are necessary at the walk-up site, which aims to offer about 200 tests daily. People getting tested will not be asked about their immigration status or who lives with them, health officials said.