Dr. Wilma Wooten
Dr. Wilma Wooten at Wednesdays media briefing. Image from live stream

San Diego County public health officials announced 82 new cases of coronavirus and 7 more deaths on Wednesday and hinted that social distancing orders could be eased after April.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said there have been a total of 2,012 cases identified in the course of 27,884 tests and 60 resulting deaths.

The latest victims of the disease were a 100-year-old woman, two women in their 90s, and four men ranging in ages from their 60s to 90s. All had underlying medical conditions.

San Diego County has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths among large counties in the United States, and Wooten was asked when life could return to normal.

“As long as we have increasing numbers, and increased numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, it would be premature to loosen up our social distancing strategies,” she said during the county’s regular afternoon briefing amid the pandemic.

But she said widespread adherence to the social-distancing rules through April could create the conditions necessary to begin easing restrictions.”At the end of this month,” she said, “we will look at what conditions we can kind of dial down.”

She noted that the county public health laboratory has received advanced testing equipment and will soon be able to administer 1,000 coronavirus tests a day. This is in addition to growing testing capacity at local hospitals and private laboratories.

But it might still be a long time before all restrictions are ended in San Diego County and elsewhere.

“Until we can have ‘herd immunity’ that is created with vaccinations, we will not be back to normal,” Wooten said, referring to the medical term describing when a large percentage of a population has antibodies.

Earlier during the briefing, Sheriff Bill Gore said approximately 1,200 low-risk inmates had been released from county jails, and another 400 will soon follow, to prevent the spread of coronavirus among the remaining 4,000 in custony. He said only three cases have occurred so far.

“I think when you look at San Diego County, we’ve done a responsible job of lowering our inmate population,” he said.

Chris Jennewein

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