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COVID-19 cases creep toward 2,500 mark as protesters draw responses

 

Last updated 4/21/2020 at 9:50am



SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The total of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County is creeping toward the 2,500 mark, but only two deaths have been reported since Friday.

County health officials confirmed 57 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Monday, raising the county totals to 2,325 cases and 72 deaths.

The number of San Diegans who have been hospitalized due to coronavirus complications increased to 562 Monday, with 189 in intensive care units. According to county data, there have been 1,332 documented COVID-19 recoveries.

The proportion of positive test cases has been on a downward trend for the past two weeks, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, but she said it's too soon to tell if the region is ready to transition to life post-COVID-19.

The assessment came in the wake of a tumultuous weekend, in which protesters took to the streets in cities across the country -- including San Diego and Encinitas to demand the reopening of parks, beaches and "nonessential'' workplaces. The protests -- locally about 200-strong in Encinitas and involving several hundred at the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego -- have drawn both praise and condemnation.

The Rev. Shane Harris, leader of the San Diego-based People's Alliance for Justice, called Monday morning for San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit to issue citations to the organizers of the downtown event.

"This is racial entitlement at its finest,'' Harris said. "There were several hundred gathered in San Diego County. Most, if not the majority, were white Americans.''

Harris said that if "people of color'' had attempted such a protest, the police presence would have been much higher.

San Diego police officers kept a watchful eye on the protesters Saturday, but did not issue any citations.

"We have decided not to enforce the law at this time,'' according to a police statement released that day. "We welcome people to voice their frustrations and concerns in a peaceful way. We hope after they've done so, they'll disperse.''

Harris said he spoke to Nisleit about his concerns and told reporters he was not trying to make it a political issue, rather a fairness issue. He said he respected the message and goal of the protesters -- a reopening of the county -- but implored organizers as well as authorities to enforce social distancing and face covering protocols.

The San Diego Police Department issued a statement Monday indicating citations could be forthcoming.

"The San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff's Department recognize this fundamental right (to protest) while balancing it with the need to enforce the public health orders,'' the statement read. "Although the protests were allowed to take place, we must not forget the public health orders were put in place to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19. While no citations were issued at the protests, that does not mean prosecution will not be sought, especially to the organizers of these

events.''

Some politicians supported at least part of the protesters' message. County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey both called for the reopening of the region's beaches.

"Surfing in the ocean should not be a crime,'' Bailey said in a public Facebook post on Saturday.

County officials Monday said they understood the heavy toll the public health orders to curb the coronavirus pandemic have taken on the economy and on the public's mental health.

"We know we made the right call early,'' said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who warned against moving too fast to lift public health orders.

"Some out there are calling for an immediate reopening of the county because of the low case numbers,'' he said. "It's like throwing away your umbrella in the middle of a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.''

Fletcher said the county was "ready to begin considering easing'' of public health orders, including reopening beaches and parks, once there's a framework for how to phase back into recreational activities.

Measures would likely include hired security at locations to ensure the use of facial coverings and social distancing, as well as halving occupancy limits at retail establishments and eateries, he said.

Businesses should begin planning now on how to reopen and maintain public health orders, Fletcher said, so they will not be caught unprepared if there is an opportunity to reopen in May.

The San Diego Economic Recovery Advisory Group met for the first time on Monday to develop a framework for a phased re-opening of San Diego County's economy once the threat of COVID-19 has been tamed.

The group, which was announced Friday, consists of local "civic and business leaders'' representing a variety of industries that can advise how best to safely reopen for business, and how to have the local economy thrive in a business environment so widely impacted by COVID-19.

 

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