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County Reports 2,604 New Cases 22 Deaths As Hospitalizations Continue To Rise

A sign reminding people of socially distance during the COVID-19 pandemic at Tuna Harbor Park at the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego on Dec. 13, 2020.
Alexander Nguyen
A sign reminding people of socially distance during the COVID-19 pandemic at Tuna Harbor Park at the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego on Dec. 13, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials reported 2,604 COVID-19 infections and 22 deaths Thursday, as hospitalizations continue to set records and restaurants appear poised to reopen.

Thursday marks the third-highest daily total cases, after Friday's 2,867 and Wednesday's 2,807. Thursday marks the 17th consecutive day with more than 1,000 cases and the 10th day overall with more than 2,000 new cases.

The county's cumulative case total has risen to 116,852 and the death toll has risen to 1,239.


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

Despite these climbing numbers, a San Diego County judge ruled late Wednesday that all San Diego County restaurants and businesses with restaurant service are exempted from enforcement of California's regional COVID-19 stay-at- home order.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday that allowed a pair of San Diego strip clubs — Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Pacers Showgirls International — to remain open amid COVID-19 restrictions, as well as "San Diego County businesses with restaurant service ... subject to protocols that are no greater than is essential to further defendants' response to control the spread of Covid."

Wohlfeil's ruling prompted the county to seek an emergency hearing Thursday afternoon for clarification, though officials issued a statement Wednesday night indicating the county was suspending enforcement against restaurants and live entertainment establishments.

The ruling is at odds with another San Diego judge's finding in a separate case denying a request from local restaurants and gyms to resume indoor operations.

In that case, San Diego Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Medel ruled "while there may be evidence that shows a current minimal COVID-19 spread in the restaurants and gyms of San Diego County, that does not necessarily mean that restrictions in these sectors going forward are unwarranted."


However, that ruling came prior to the regional stay-at-home order that also prohibited outdoor dining.

A hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction in that case is slated for Friday afternoon.

A jump of 43 hospitalizations set a record with 1,186 COVID-19- positive patients hospitalized locally. An additional 295 COVID-19 patients are in ICUs.

The county's hospitals have 16% of their ICU beds available, unchanged from Wednesday. This is even as the state estimates the Southern California region's ICU beds are entirely full. Where the discrepancy comes from is unclear.

In the San Joaquin Valley, 0.7% of ICU beds are available. The Greater Sacramento region has 11.3% of ICU beds available and the Bay Area 13.1%.

Only Northern California remains outside the Gov. Gavin Newsom- directed stay-at-home order with 25.8% of ICU beds available. That order applies to regions with fewer than 15% ICU beds remaining.

San Diego County has seen a 215% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past 30 days and a 144% increase in ICU patients in the same time frame.

The previous peak in hospitalizations, in mid-July, topped out at about 400 patients.

Supervisor Greg Cox on Wednesday asked for patience from county residents, as more vaccines were on the way.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday afternoon approved a vaccine developed by Moderna to join the 28,275 Pfizer vaccines already in the region available for civilian acute healthcare workers.

San Diego County is home to 82,623 healthcare workers toiling in acute hospital or psychiatric facilities, 39,755 of whom are considered "highest risk" and will receive vaccines first.

The 28,000-plus vaccines will cover about 72% of those slated to be inoculated until more vaccines arrive in California.

Eight new community outbreaks were reported Thursday, with 38 in the last week. A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.