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San Diego County Crosses 1,000 COVID-19 Deaths As Hospitalizations Surge

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San Diego County health officials reported 1,378 new COVID-19 infections and 22 deaths Tuesday as hospitalizations continue to surge with nearly triple the number of people hospitalized compared to a month ago.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego has now lost a thousand people to COVID-19 the profiles of the COVID victims. Show them to be our neighbors, friends, or tragically, our family members. Some are people who died too soon, often in their forties and fifties, others had their last years taken from them by this cruel and incurable disease. It was only about nine months ago that the first San Diego resident to die of COVID-19 made headlines. Now with more than a thousand dead, we're left to wonder how many more will be lost before the virus is controlled. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune health reporter, Paul Sisson, and Paul. Welcome. Thank you for having me. It may have seemed unbelievable back in March when we heard about the first death that we'd finally reached this point, remind us how San Diego received news of that first COVID victim.

Speaker 2: 00:55 Yeah. Going back in time, as you may recall, the first death happened on March 22nd. Uh, it was a man in his seventies who actually didn't die in San Diego County. He actually died in a Santa Clara hospital and, uh, there was, you know, a whole big debate after that, about whether, whether that deaths should count for San Diego or not. And, uh, and so that's how we started out with, uh, with our first death, uh, San Diego County resident, who actually wasn't here when he died.

Speaker 1: 01:22 And it made headlines at the time. It's been a long time since, since a COVID death made headlines, right?

Speaker 2: 01:28 I mean, you know, we've, we've, uh, certainly been covering the desk. Everybody has a in, in the media and people have still been paying attention, but it just hasn't quite, I think we've all become a little numb, uh, as this, this number just keeps going up and up. I think we, uh, you know, have just become used to the, this a hundred after a hundred, after a hundred more deaths, uh, associated with, with the novel coronavirus.

Speaker 1: 01:52 Now, back in the summertime, it looked like things were slowing down a little bit. Have the, has the actual death rate in the County slowed?

Speaker 2: 02:01 Yes, it does look like it has, uh, you know, we did a month by month analysis yesterday and, uh, I, I think that the most deadly month that we've had so far was still back in July. Uh, and we haven't had quite as many in recent months as we were having. Uh, I was talking to, uh, some folks at the hospital association, uh, you know, about why that is and, and really the thought that there are two main reasons. The first being that overall, the, the, the people who are getting infected with this virus are younger, maybe in their twenties, maybe in their thirties, uh, more often than they were in the, in the early going. And as we know this, uh, this disease is significantly more deadly. Uh, the older you are. Uh, and then the second main reason is that they've gotten better over time at treating patients who get into severe respiratory distress and end up hospitalized. Uh, we've seen the overall length of hospital hospital stay, uh, cut roughly in half. Do we know the person

Speaker 1: 03:00 Who actually was the 1000th victim in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 03:04 We don't quite know. Um, that's, that's a situation that is a little confusing for people. Uh, you know, it can take days or even weeks in some cases for them to issue death certificates after people die. Uh, they might do a little investigation to determine what the exact cause of death actually was when they look at the medical records that were associated with each person. Uh, and so the County does not tell the public about COVID related deaths until it has a, uh, an actual death certificate, uh, you know, receives an actual death certificate. Uh, and so it is always the case that when we hear about new deaths, they actually happened sometime in the past. And so, uh, the thousands of deaths death on the county's list at the moment actually is a man who died back on November 24th. Uh, and so it is probably going to be the case that, uh, as we move forward in time, we will see some more deaths that actually occurred before that date. So the thousands death will probably change a few more times before it, uh, you know, it's far enough in the past that, that we aren't getting any more deaths that precede, that thing.

Speaker 1: 04:10 We often talk about COVID deaths in terms of statistics by age or ethnicity, but the union Tribune has over the months profile the live stories of many San Diego ones who died from COVID. Why did the paper start doing that?

Speaker 2: 04:25 No, we just really wanted to put a human face on these numbers. Um, you know, like I said, uh, you see these numbers go up and up and you can become a little numb to it. And you can forget, uh, I suppose that these are human beings who each have their own life story and who, who deserve to have some acknowledgement of, you know, who they were and how they died. And, uh, and, uh, you know, these are our neighbors, these are our family members, and we just kind of felt like they really deserved some sort of tribute.

Speaker 1: 04:55 Yeah. The stories you told us about the lives of the people we've lost are social workers, single mothers, teachers, Naval officers, athletes, and many, many elderly people who died without family or friends in attendance. Can you share maybe one or two of those stories with us?

Speaker 2: 05:15 You know, our, one of our, uh, great writers, Gary WARF has really been doing a lot of these for us at one that struck me was a, was a woman named Blanca Ramirez, who he just recently wrote about Blanca was an Imperial beach resident and her daughter, uh, Brianna Romo told us about her. Uh, she died on September 7th at age 55, uh, after a contract and COVID 19 in July. And, uh, we, we learned that she actually had an auto-immune disease disease called lupus, uh, that really, uh, contributed to her susceptibility to this virus. And it just kind of brought home for me that, you know, this, this is our society's duty to protect these folks who have these conditions that they can't control. Uh, and so, you know, that that really definitely hit home with me.

Speaker 1: 06:07 Now you've covered San Diego, hospitals and healthcare workers throughout the pandemic. I'm wondering how has this high death toll affected those people who are closest to the patients?

Speaker 2: 06:18 You know, it started with them being very nervous. Uh, you know, the folks that I've talked to anyway about going home to their families and protecting their families and being able to be able to understand whether or not they could actually trust the protective gear that they wear, uh, when they're working at the bedside with people. And, you know, I think over time, generally folks tell me that they've come to trust their gear and they've come to trust that it works. And they they're a little less nervous about going home at the end of the shift, as long as they take the right precautions, but it's just a grind to keep seeing these types of, uh, of medical consequences for people day after day, week after week, month after month. I talked to a lot of executives recently, a lot of our, um, local health systems who say that they are just really afraid that their critical workers, the people on the front lines, the respiratory therapists, the, uh, critical care nurses, uh, you know, those types of folks who have their hands on patients are just getting burnt out with the, they've just been doing this for so many months in a row.

Speaker 2: 07:19 Now that, you know, just as this new wave arrives, uh, they're just, they're just getting burnt out. So then that is a scary thing to think about,

Speaker 1: 07:27 Right? You talk about the new wave, uh, our numbers of newly diagnosed COVID patients are now extremely high over a thousand a day. Have you heard any estimates on how high the death toll could reach in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 07:42 I really haven't the local public health department and, and state, and, uh, and even the wider reaching, uh, national resources really don't seem to want to go there. Uh, it, it feels a little bit like they just don't, uh, don't see a lot of, um, a lot of margin in, in talking about that. It's something that's just so grim, but certainly, you know, we, we can expect the rate of death to increase as we see the rate of infection increase, even if, even if this is a less deadly than it was, we're just seeing so many more infections than we were a few months ago that we certainly can expect the overall number of deaths to increase.

Speaker 1: 08:21 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, health reporter, Paul and Paul. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 08:26 Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.