San Diego County healthcare workers conduct COVID-19 testing at SDCCU Stadium. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported 253 new cases of COVID-19 and another three deaths Sunday.

The updated numbers bring the county’s totals to 38,300 coronavirus cases and 682 fatalities. The latest COVID-19 victims were three men in their 80s. They all had underlying conditions, according to the HHSA.

Out of 5,360 test results received in the past day, the percentage of positive cases increased from 3.7% to 5%. This is one of two criteria now used by the state to loosen or tighten restrictions on activities. The 14-day rolling average of positive tests remained at 3.7%. The target is less than 8%.

There were two new community outbreaks reported for a total of 19 in the past seven days. One of the new outbreaks was in a healthcare facility and the other was in a business.A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households in the past 14 days.

Meantime, local restrictions will ease Monday and some business are set to reopen and some activities are OK to resume under new guidance released by the state Friday. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom released a new state system Friday that sorts counties into one of four tiers based on the extent of the area’s COVID-19 outbreak,

Restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters and museums will be allowed starting Monday to maintain up to 25% occupancy or 100 people — whichever is less. Gyms may operate with 10% occupancy. Hair salons, barbershops and nail salons may operate indoors with normal capacity.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said the county would follow state guidelines that indicate retail businesses are to be restricted to 50% occupancy.

All indoor businesses must still abide by social distancing- and face- covering mandates, as well as having a detailed safe reopening plan on file with the county.

Wooten said San Diego County had made it to “tier 2,” the only county in Southern California to earn that designation. The county still has a “substantial” COVID-19 presence, but unlike Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles and Imperial counties it is not considered “widespread.”

The two metrics the state was monitoring in that tier list include an old one — the percentage of positive tests — and a new one — the number of daily new cases per 100,000 people. San Diego County is at 3.8% and 5.8 per 100,000 respectively. To make it to the next tier, the county must show rates of between 2% and 4.9% positive tests and between 1 and 3.9 new daily cases per 100,000 population.

Because the county currently exceeds one of those numbers, it cannot start its path to the next tier.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said he felt the county was moving too quickly to reopen and should take a more measured response.

“My concerns are with the size, scope and speed of what is being reopened on Monday,” he said. “While there are some lower risk entities that could safely reopen at this point, what we are doing is very similar to what we did in June with a large segment of indoor operations all opening at the same time. This led to a large increase in cases and required new restrictions.

“But even though I prefer a different path, the decision has been made and I will continue to work tirelessly to help us find a way to slow the spread, support our schools, and continue to help our community through this difficult time,” Fletcher said.

According to Wooten, there is a 21-day mandatory wait time before any county can move between tiers, and a county must meet the metrics for the next tier for two straight weeks. Also, a county may only move one tier at a time.

And Tuesday, all schools in the county will be allow to open for in-person instruction if they choose to do so. There is strict criteria for how schools are to safely reopen, and many private schools have already brought students back to the classroom. For the most part, however, most students can expect to continue with distance learning that transitions to a hybrid model until the county’s 42 public school districts are fully reopened.

— Staff report and City News Service

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