San Diego County public health officials reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 and a dozen deaths Tuesday, raising the total death count to 31, with 1,454 confirmed cases.
The new cases are the fewest reported in the county since March 28 and the second fewest in two weeks, but the number of deaths is by far the largest increase since the public health emergency began.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, said while the statistics were striking, they may not represent any significant trends.
“The increase in deaths should be no cause for alarm, as the number of deaths frequently lags behind the number of cases,” she said. “Most of the deaths have been reported since yesterday, obviously, but have occurred in the last several days.”
Wooten said the county sees a similar lag every year in influenza season, as the process of completing a death certificate may take several days while new confirmed positive cases are more immediately reported. Even so, the leap in deaths brings the percentage of people dying from complications related to COVID-19 to 2.1%, still below both California’s mortality rate of 2.3% and the nation’s 3.2% but a significant increase from Monday’s local rate of 1.3% mortality.
Wooten also urged county residents to avoid experimental treatments for COVID-19, stressing that there was no known cure for the illness.
Of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication touted multiple times in recent days by President Donald Trump, Wooten was clear.
“We are not recommending this medication,” she said.
Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of epidemiology, agreed.
“This particular drug is not FDA indicated for this use,” he said. “There’s no evidence of any specific drug that has any specific efficacy at this time.”
He said many medical studies were underway around the world to address exactly this issue, but no scientific research confirmed efficacy.
Trump “has a small personal financial interest” in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine, The New York Times reported Monday.
Since COVID-19 first arrived in San Diego County, there have been 289 hospitalizations from the respiratory illness and 109 intensive care hospitalizations.
For the first time Tuesday, the county reported the number of estimated recovered patients, at 201. The county does not currently track the number of COVID-19 patients in the region’s 23 hospitals, instead looking at total number of occupied beds.
Wooten reported eight new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus for a total of 25 outbreaks,
Responding to public input and interest, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced that the county would expand its data by race/ethnicity in its evening updates, adding recovery and mortality rates by those groups. Monday’s numbers, excluding 405 positive cases in which race was not identified, showed that 49% of positive cases occurred in white individuals, 30.7% in Latinos and the remaining cases fell among Asian, black, Pacific Islander, American Indian and mixed-race San Diego County residents.
“This tracks very closely with the broader demographics of the county,” Fletcher said.
Black county residents had the highest rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, at 39.9. Hispanic or Latino residents had the fewest, with 26.7 cases per 100,000 residents.
Fletcher also expressed gratitude to county residents who were taking shelter-in-place orders seriously.
According to county data, local travel has dropped significantly, including a 50% drop in retail traffic, a 64% drop in public transit traffic and 51% less traffic at parks.
More than 800 unsheltered individuals are transitioning to San Diego’s Convention Center as a temporary homeless shelter. The San Diego City Council approved a $3.7 million state grant to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among homeless San Diegans.
More than 1.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been distributed from county supplies, including more than 748,000 N95 respirators.
The county reported 523 unused ventilators at 22 of the region’s 23 hospitals.
Authorities will begin citing essential businesses that have not complied with the requirement to post social-distancing and sanitization guidelines near the entrance of their businesses.
All employees of grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants open for to-go orders, fast-food eateries, convenience stores and gas stations must also wear a facial covering at all times as part of a county health order that went into effect at midnight Saturday.
Although the county is not mandating that residents wear face coverings, essential businesses can deny entry to customers whose faces are not covered, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Monday.
“If an individual business chooses to say that you need to have a face covering to come into their business, that is a determination that those businesses can make,” he said.
Supervisor Greg Cox said Monday the county has increased the services it provides to senior and homebound residents, with meals from the Aging & Independent Services agency increasing by 92% over the last three weeks.
He said seniors can access services by calling 800-339-4661, and elder- or dependent adult-abuse could be reported at that same number.
Fletcher said the shelter-at-home orders were particularly difficult for seniors.
“Reach out to senior citizens, whether they be family members or coworkers,” he said. “Give some encouragement, support and help. The burden is much greater for them. They are under a higher level of quarantine and were told to do it earlier.”
Rob Sills, director of medical operations, said Monday the county’s stockpile of surgical masks and N95 respirators was sufficient but the supplies of face shields and non-permeable gowns were “critically low.”
A survey released Monday by the Service Employees International Union Local 221 found that among 70 healthcare workers asked, nearly 90% reported they had no masks or had to reuse them to an unsafe degree.