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San Diego moves to CDC's 'high' COVID-19 community level

After weeks of COVID-19 case increases, San Diego County is landing in the CDC’s high risk tier. KPBS Health Reporter Matt Hoffman explains what it means and how it might prompt some to rethink travel plans.

With the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants driving up case and hospitalization numbers, San Diego County moved into the "high" COVID-19 activity level Thursday; however, unlike Los Angeles County, no indoor mask-wearing mandate is being considered.

“As far as locally the strong [mask] recommendation stands,” said San Diego County deputy public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser. “We reinforce that every chance we get including right now and I’ll be saying it more and we’ll be saying it more strongly while we’re in the red (high risk) tier.”

As of Thursday, the average daily rate of COVID-19-positive patients being hospitalized in the county rose to 11.5 per 100,000 residents. That topped the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's threshold for "high" virus activity.


The CDC bases its rating on the number of hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in the region.

“It’s impossible for us to say where this will peter out to. But I think it can be said right now that we are moving in the wrong direction and want to put some breaks on it,” Cameron said.

San Diego had been in the medium-risk category since the end of May, but recent spikes in hospitalizations and new cases have led the CDC to increase the risk level for the region.

The county continues to follow the California Department of Public Health's SMARTER plan, which recommends vaccination, use of masks, testing and treatment among other things.

"San Diegans should take every precaution necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19," Kaiser said in a written statement. "Most San Diegans have been vaccinated, but with this virus, and with the prevalence and infectivity of the new variants, a booster is highly recommended, especially for people who are immunocompromised or have other comorbidities."


On Thursday, the total number of patients in county hospitals with COVID-19 decreased by three to 395, and those in intensive care units decreased by two to 43 — the highest numbers since early March. A total of 6.6% of all hospital beds in the county are occupied by people with COVID-19.

The total case rate for San Diego County is 383.01 per 100,000 residents.

According to the county's Health and Human Services Agency, lab-confirmed coronavirus cases remain near 10,000 per week, a number that does not include at-home tests. The HHSA also reported it has also seen an increase in re-infections -- San Diegans who have tested positive for COVID-19 several times throughout the pandemic. Prior infection does not necessarily prevent re-infection with some of the newer virus variants, according to national data.

Additionally, hospitalizations for COVID-19-related illnesses are also on the rise, up 66% in the last 30 days, the HHSA said last week. New ICU admissions rose 68% during that same time frame.

The county reported 2,191 new infections and seven deaths related to the virus on Thursday, increasing the cumulative totals to 857,182 cases and 5,370 deaths.

Health officials have said that a majority of the deaths occurred in people with at least one underlying health condition, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

More than 3 million or 89.7% of San Diegans age six months and older are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly 2.65 million or 79.2% are fully vaccinated. A total of 1,396,563 or 57.8% of 2,418,004 eligible San Diegans have received a booster.

The county only reports COVID data on Mondays and Thursdays.

  • San Diego has reached the CDC’s highest level of COVID-19 activity. The highly contagious BA.5 variant is driving the current surge of the disease, and with summertime activities in full swing - including this week’s Comic Con - health officials are bracing for what could be an even more cases.

Updated: July 15, 2022 at 5:30 PM PDT
This story was updated to include comments from a county public health official.