COVID-19 testing outside Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside earlier in December. Courtesy San Diego County

San Diego County public health officials reported 37 COVID-19 deaths and 2,448 new infections Wednesday, including one individual infected with a more contagious variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first found in the United States on Tuesday in Colorado. The San Diego case is in a man in his 30s with no history of travel who first became symptomatic Dec. 27 and tested positive Dec. 29. He has not been hospitalized and contact tracing is underway.

Dr. Kristian Andersen, a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute, said that while the variant appears to spread between people far easier, there’s no evidence yet that it is any more severe.

The cases reported Wednesday marked the 30th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new infections, and the 21st overall with more than 2,000 new cases. The 3,000 mark has been crossed five times.

San Diego County’s cumulative totals are now 152,512 cases and 1,472 deaths. The 37 people who died in Wednesday’s data ranged in age from 54 to 100 and 30 had underlying medical issues.

Another 39 people with coronavirus were hospitalized Wednesday and one was sent to an intensive care unit.

Officials pleaded with residents to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home to minimize the spread of the virus, which is straining hospitals throughout Southern California.

“Going out to party on New Year’s Eve during a global pandemic is putting your life at risk, and the lives of your friends and families. Is it really worth it?” asked Supervisor Greg Cox.

He said five testing sites would be open on New Year’s Day to deal with the aftermath.

Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of the epidemiology and immunization services department, said influenza cases are on the rise. Until this point, influenza cases have been sitting at about 10% of a usual year, but last week the county reported 171 cases.

He encouraged San Diegans to get flu vaccines while they wait for their COVID-19 vaccine, which cannot be taken at the same time, McDonald said.

A total of 11 community outbreaks were confirmed Wednesday: four in businesses, four in daycare/childcare settings and one each in a food processing setting, TK-12 school and hotel. There have been 55 community outbreaks confirmed in the last seven days with 240 cases associated with those outbreaks. A community setting outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

A new small business assistance program from the State of California started Wednesday, and in the New Year businesses will receive support from the Federal Government’s economic stimulus package. The San Diego & Imperial Small Business Development Center, Supervisor Fletcher and the San Diego Foundation have partnered to make sure business owners and nonprofit leaders can access the available resources.

Businesses and nonprofits can sign-up to receive the funds by visiting www.CaReliefgrant.com. The deadline to apply is Jan. 8, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. All applications will start to be reviewed following the closure of the application period. These grants are to cover business expenses, specifically for small businesses hit by the pandemic.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

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