San Diego County public health officials reported 118 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths Wednesday, raising the county’s totals to 3,432 cases and 120 deaths.
Wednesday’s deaths were a woman in her mid-80s and a man in his late 70s.
Supervisor Greg Cox said county leaders would make significant announcements about the relaxation of health orders on Thursday. He didn’t share any additional details, but the county’s public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, said public health orders would be extended indefinitely — in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders.
Another main topic for officials Wednesday was the prospect of an overloaded health care system, particularly with the news of North County hospital system Palomar Health laying off 317 employees, citing significant patient visit declines and loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Palomar Health officials say they have seen a 45% to 50% decrease in overall patient visits since the outbreak began, absorbing a $5.7 million operating loss in March, “with losses in April expected to be worse, yet hard to estimate given the uncertainty of the virus.”
The 317 positions represent 5% of Palomar’s workforce and the majority are part-time workers. The number includes 50 clinical RNs. The remaining 267 positions are spread across the organization, ranging from clerical staff to technicians.
According to Wooten, hospitals laying off employees as revenues decline remains a major concern, but “across the board we think that is not the situation.” She mentioned that COVID-19 had significantly changed how medicine is provided, including a significant increase in telemedicine capabilities.
Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s director of epidemiology and vaccination, said part of hospitals’ declining patient load was likely because of concerns about infection at the facilities.
“There may be some people out there who are not seeking emergency care who really do need to,” McDonald said, specifying stoke, heart attack and diabetes-related symptoms. “Going to our local emergency departments in San Diego County is safe.”
The county has more than 6,000 beds in its 23 hospitals, with 3,604 in use. Currently, 381 people testing positive or presumed-positive for COVID-19 are in hospitals, 130 of whom are in the ICU.
Wednesday’s updated numbers increased the total hospitalized because of COVID-19 to 761 and the number of people who spent at least some time in intensive care to 241.
The county and its medical partners had tested 1,966 people as of Tuesday, with 6% returning positive. Those entities have completed more than 50,271 tests since the beginning of the pandemic, and the positive percentage of tests has decreased by a little more than 1% since April 1, a sign the region may be seeing a decreased imprint from the illness, according to San Diego County Public Health.
The estimated number of recovered COVID-19 patients rose to 1,892.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said county staff have handed out more than 300,000 face shields in the last 24 hours, and have distributed nearly three million pieces of personal protective equipment since the public health crisis began.
At the San Diego Convention Center, the two people sheltering there who tested positive for COVID-19 have been removed to public health rooms. Fletcher said 969 people at the center have been tested for COVID-19, with 664 returning negative, 17 returning indeterminate and 306 pending. Of those tested, 704 are residents and 265 are staff.
Fletcher said the county has counted 28 total cases in the region’s unsheltered population.
Meanwhile, beaches in San Diego, Oceanside, Encinitas, Coronado and Imperial Beach reopened for recreation activities on Monday, but numerous beaches in San Diego County remain closed.
Group gatherings, parking in lots and lying down on the beach are still not allowed.
Beaches in Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach remain closed. Solana Beach city officials announced Sunday that they are working to reopen city beaches the week of May 4. Del Mar announced that it will reopen its beaches Thursday morning for recreation activities.
And the county continues to move forward on its plan to require facial coverings in public by Friday, and agencies are rushing to adapt. The Metropolitan Transit System announced Tuesday it would require all passengers and employees to wear facial coverings while in vehicles or at transit centers or bus stops.