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County requires face covers by May 1, concerns rise about Mexico and COVID-19

 

Last updated 4/25/2020 at 2:29pm



SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego County health officials amended two COVID- 19 public health orders today, lifting ocean restrictions for swimmers, surfers and those using kayaks or paddleboards and requiring people within six feet of a non-household member after May 1 to wear a facial covering.

These measures come after a week in which south county municipalities are seeing a spike in cases and north county cities seeing a greater call to open public spaces.

Officials also reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 -- the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began -- and two new deaths. This brings the county totals to 2,826 cases and 102 deaths. The previous highest-case increase was April 2, when 146 new cases were reported. Tuesday marked the largest increase in the death count, with 15 reported fatalities.

The first order will allow ocean access from city beaches for the above-mentioned activities. Piers, boardwalks and parking lots are still closed to the public, and the order does not include boat ramps or watercraft. It also does not apply to state parks and beaches. It also leaves the decision of beach closures to the cities.

Each municipality can make the call on opening beaches. Any beaches that do open will be subject to the county's "passive use'' definition, and visitors must avoid sitting, lying and engaging in group activities -- any open beach can be used for walking, running or as an access point to the ocean.

The second health order will follow Chula Vista and National City passing orders requiring facial coverings in public along many of the same lines. If out in public and within six feet of a person who is not a member of the household, San Diego County residents will be required to wear facial coverings starting May 1.

"But we're encouraging it immediately,'' said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

Fletcher mentioned concern with the high number of cases south of the border and said local leaders are asking for more strict testing for those crossing into the United States from Mexico. According to officials, a higher rate of cases in south county towns and in the Otay Mesa Detention Center may be related to those crossing the border. More than 200,000 American citizens live in northern Baja California, Fletcher said.

The county is calling for federal assistance to take people's temperatures at the border and help enforce a mandatory two-week quarantine period for anyone taking nonessential international trips.

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has reached out to Vice President Mike Pence asking for help at the border, and the county has set up two drive-through testing facilities, in Escondido and Chula Vista, to provide greater and quicker testing capabilities to the public. The facilities will open Monday morning and are by appointment only, which can be made through a physician or by calling the county's 211 line.

Testing has increased dramatically in the county, with 3,122 cases coming in Friday, the most daily tests yet. Since March 16, when the number of tests returning positive sat at 8.5%, the percentage has slowly dropped to Friday's rate of just over 6%. This is one sign the county may have reached its peak in cases, although officials warn against complacency.

"Our long fight is not over yet,'' said County Chairman Greg Cox. "We all have to be in this fight, whether it be in Chula Vista or Oceanside.''

Today's deaths include two women, in their late 40s and mid-60s, both with underlying medical conditions, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer.

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose to 658 on Friday, and the number of patients being treated in intensive care units climbed to 218, representing increases of 34 and five, respectively, from Thursday. The percentage of COVID-19 cases in the hospital is 7% of all 4,357 occupied hospital beds, a rate which has held steady or slightly decreased since mid-March.

Of the 100 people who have died of the disease, 53 were white, 32 were Latino and nine were Asian. One person each identified as black, Pacific Islander, American Indian and multiple race have died. The race or ethnicity of four individuals who have died from the illness is still unknown.

The county estimates that 1,591 people have recovered from COVID-19, but it does not have an exact, verifiable recovery number.

Of all positive-testing coronavirus cases, 23.3% of the patients have been hospitalized and 7.7% sent to intensive care. COVID-19 patients who have died represent 3.6% of all cases. All three percentages have decreased for several days in a row.

A person in one of San Diego County's public health rooms was found unresponsive Thursday and was confirmed to have died Friday. The person had tested negative for COVID-19 and the cause of death is as-yet unknown. Fletcher said the county does not suspect "foul play.''

Wooten announced there are 38 active outbreaks in the county, traced to 416 cases and 56 deaths.

Parks in the city of Vista reopened for passive use Friday, along with two popular walking paths in Encinitas, while anyone who visits an

essential business in Chula Vista is now required to wear a face covering.

Fletcher announced that although the county advised regional hospitals they could reinstate elective surgeries Thursday, it had not consulted with all regional health partners, leading to Fletcher apologizing on behalf of the county.

Parkgoers in Vista must practice physical distancing and will be limited to individual or household unit activities, such as walking, jogging or running. Dogs on leashes will be permitted.

Group activities and active sports will not be allowed, meaning athletic fields, skate parks, playgrounds and all other areas related to group activities would remain closed until further notice.

The Encinitas Coastal Rail Trail and walking path on Highway 101 reopened today as well, but residents must maintain six feet of physical distance and face coverings are strongly recommended.

A federal 202-bed emergency overflow medical facility -- which will not be used unless the county's resources are stretched too thin -- opened Thursday and occupies two formerly vacant floors of Palomar Medical Center Escondido.

Officials also announced that San Diego County received $334 million in CARES Act funding on Thursday. Fletcher said the federal money, designated for COVID-19 emergency response, will be doled out in the coming weeks per federal guidelines.

Approximately 1,400 community college students in San Diego County who are in need of laptops and internet connectivity for online classes will benefit from a $500,000 grant from The San Diego Foundation's COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the foundation announced Thursday. The grant will be shared among the five community college districts in San Diego County that are part of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association.

 

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