Testing for coronavirus
Testing for coronavirus at the San Diego County public health laboratory. Image from County News Center video

San Diego County officials warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic will get worse before it gets better as the number of local cases grew by 55 to 297.

The county Health and Human Services Agency, which tracks the virus daily, reported 277 cases involving local residents and 20 among non-residents, primarily military personnel. The increase from Tuesday totaled 55, compared to 12 the day before.

“In San Diego, we are at the beginning of our exposure,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.” The situation that we face in San Diego will get worse and continue to get worse before it gets better.”

Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s head of epidemiology, estimated that 10 times as many people have the virus than the official numbers indicate because of testing limitations.

He said so far 20% of cases in the county have required hospitalization, with 9% of patients being placed in intensive care. A typical case requires seven days of hospitalization.

During the county’s daily media briefing on the pandemic, McDonald shared projections that showed how quickly hospitals would be overwhelmed with and without social distancing. Without aggressive social distancing, he said, the breaking point would come April 12, but officials hope that “flattening the curve” will push the peak into May, when efforts to increase hospital capacity will have had an impact.

He stressed that county residents need to strictly adhere to social distancing and limit their activities to the absolutely essential.

“My advice is, you need to do more now. Really look at what you’re doing day to day and ask yourself, ‘Is this essential?’” he said. “Pair down to those specific activities for this critical period of  time, and that is what is going to buy us the time we need, flatten the curve, and allow us to handle what will be a large number of illnesses and, I’m afraid deaths, that are coming in the days ahead.”

The county currently has around 7,000 hospital beds, but McDonald said he expected capacity could be increased by 40% in the coming weeks by canceling elective procedures.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.