Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


County Reports 56 Deaths, Hospitalizations Surge As COVID-19 Variant Spreads

A sign advising of coronavirus precautions on the San Diego State University campus. Dec. 8, 2020.
KPBS Staff
A sign advising of coronavirus precautions on the San Diego State University campus. Dec. 8, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials reported 1,814 new COVID-19 infections, 56 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations Tuesday, as well as 24 new confirmed and four probable cases of the more contagious strain of SARS-CoV2 that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

It was the 36th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new infections, but the first time in 26 days that the number reported did not surpass 2,000. The 3,000 mark has been crossed 10 times since the start of the pandemic.

The number of deaths reported was the third-highest, after 62 deaths reported Wednesday and 58 on New Year's Day.


The county's cumulative cases now number 172,847, and the death toll rose to 1,654.

RELATED: 24 New COVID-19 Variant Cases And Four Probable Cases Identified In San Diego

A record 4,478 cases were reported Friday, followed by the second- and fourth-highest numbers — 4,427 Saturday and 3,520 Sunday.

Of 19,182 tests reported Tuesday, 9% returned positive, dropping the 14-day rolling average to 12.9%.

County health officials are attributing the increasing number of deaths to gatherings over the holidays and the presence of the new coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7.


"Each of the 56 people who lost their lives to COVID-19 during this reporting period was someone's parent, sibling, friend or spouse, as well as a valued member of our community," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County's public health officer.

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

"These deaths are a sobering reminder that we must all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

The latest deaths were of 26 women and 30 men who succumbed to the virus between Dec. 2 and Sunday. A dozen were in their 90s, 13 in their 80s, 13 in their 70s, 13 in their 60s, four in their 50s, and one in his or her 20s. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said 50 had underlying medical conditions, with medical histories pending for the other six.

RELATED: Just 1% Of Californians Immunized Amid Slow Vaccine Rollout

The variant was first found in the United States last Tuesday 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.

Three additional cases were reported Thursday.

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 HHSA 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," Wooten said.

"People should be extra cautions to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19, especially this variant, which research has shown is more contagious."

The county has asked all testing labs with the capability to identify the new strain to forward specimens for genome sequencing to determine if they are indeed cases of the variant.

Local doctors have also been requested to forward COVID-19 positive tests from patients with a travel history to the United Kingdom or other places overseas where variants have been detected.

Two new community outbreaks were reported Tuesday, one in a business setting and one in a retail setting. In the last seven days, there have been 44 confirmed community outbreaks, defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

In another development, San Diego County Fire Department spokesman Thomas Shoots announced a rotating vaccination schedule involving San Marcos, Escondido and Rancho San Diego for first responders.

"The partnership between local fire and health agencies has built the framework for the vaccination process going forward, and will ultimately provide all first responders in San Diego County the opportunity to get vaccinated for COVID-19," he said.

Supervisors Nathan Fletcher — who was elected earlier Tuesday by his colleagues as chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors — and Nora Vargas announced a plan Tuesday night to revamp the board's approach toward managing and helping defeat the pandemic.

Fletcher said he will present the board next Tuesday with the new, overarching COVID-19 "framework," 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."