Christa Jones, a nurse in the Sharp Grossmont Hospital intensive care unit, takes a moment to comfort a COVID-19 patient, April 20, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

New federal data shows San Diego County had the fourth most coronavirus cases and deaths in the past week compared to all other U.S. counties.

But before you really panic, we’ll give you some context.

The data, published daily by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes more than 3,200 U.S. counties and compares their coronavirus testing, case and death metrics. The numbers include all new cases in each county, regardless of how big the counties are. Once you factor in population, we ranked 467th in new infections during the past week.

Sound reassuring? Not so much.

inewsource is an independent and nonprofit journalism organization in San Diego, and relies on grants and philanthropists to support its investigative content. Click here to learn more.

As of Tuesday, San Diego County was still in the top 15% in new cases nationwide.

One of the reasons is California’s push for COVID-19 testing, said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an assistant professor of infection disease and global public health at UC San Diego. Gov. Gavin Newsom has encouraged all counties to test as many people as possible and uses that information to help decide on restrictions to tamp down the virus.

“We have really good testing capacity,” Fielding-Miller said. “So it makes sense if there is a big push for more people to test, then we’re going to see more cases because we’re doing a better job of looking for it.”

All that being said, how concerned should we be about COVID-19 in San Diego County?

Very, experts say.

“You’re in the dark red on a lot of these categories,” said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine epidemiologist, while looking over the CDC’s data. “I don’t really have a silver lining for you.”

The reports show that cases and deaths are still on the rise across much of Southern California and the U.S. In the past week, San Diego County’s cases rose by 1% and deaths by 34%. The CDC has labeled our county a “sustained hotspot” and marked our pandemic trajectory as “uncertain.”

Noymer pointed to a couple reasons for the pandemic’s continued growth on the West Coast.

One is that while California’s public health orders look strict, many county governments are not enforcing them. Businesses have continued to stay open despite those rules, and outbreaks continue to occur.

“On paper, California’s tough, but in reality, there’s a different story,” Noymer said.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said Wednesday officials are taking all the steps they can to get businesses to follow the rules.

“Enforcement has been a challenge,” Fletcher said. “It’s been a challenge we’ve been talking about for seven or eight months now. And as a county, we are doing everything we can in our power as a public health agency, which is the inspections, the education, the cease and desist orders.”

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher speaks at a news conference on the coronavirus, March 19, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The board, which recently flipped to Democratic control, voted on Tuesday to strip local businesses of the ability to receive county relief funding if they don’t comply with public health orders.

Officials are facing new threats in their efforts to control the pandemic, too. San Diego County has detected at least 32 cases of the new COVID-19 variant known as B117, which is thought to be more infectious than the original virus. And while scientists don’t yet agree on why the new version of the virus is so contagious, they do agree it can cause case numbers to rise.

So while we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to make its way through all our communities, experts say wearing masks, social distancing and following public health orders are key to keeping the virus at bay.

Although it might seem like normal life is right around the corner, cases in San Diego County are higher than they’ve ever been before. And they’re expected to keep rising as people who contracted the virus over the holidays fall ill.

“The absolute number of people walking around with COVID is higher,” Fielding-Miller said. “The absolute risk is higher. It’s not one person who’s a ‘maybe’ in the grocery store, it’s 10.”

Show comments