With warning signs, the Cotija’s Taco Shop in Santee stays open for business. Photo by Ken Stone

San Diego County officials said Friday it’s time to begin planning for how to reopen the local economy as 71 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths were reported.

“States across the nation are beginning to consider how and when we may be able to reopen our businesses, and various sectors of our local economy, and our civic life in general, and we are doing that exact same thing here in San Diego,” said Supervisor Greg Cox at the county’s daily briefing.

Cox said he and Mayor Kevin Faulconer will announce the creation of an advisory group of business and labor leaders to seek guidance for a phased reopening of the economy. He stressed that the group will set guidelines for how to “safely and smartly” reopen, but not set a date.

The discussion of planning for reopening came as public health officials reported a total of 2,158 coronavirus cases and 70 deaths. A total of 30,246 tests have been administered, with 93% coming back negative.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said the new deaths were a woman in her early 60s, two women in their early 90s, and four men ranging in age from their late 50s to 70s. All of the latest victims had underlying medical issues.

Referring to new federal guidelines for reopening, she said San Diego’s hospitals were in good shape, and testing is improving, but the number of coronavirus cases needs to first decline over a 14-day period

“The bottom line is that we are not there yet,” she said. “But we have made a tremendous stride and effort, and we are getting there.”

She said that reopening the economy would have to be gradual, with some aspects of social distancing continuing until a vaccine is ready.

As an example, she said, “Even if we open up restaurants for indoor dining, we will still have to have social-distancing strategies in place.”

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