San Diego County Prepares for Retail Business Opening Friday as Deaths Climb to 158

In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo people leave a retail clothing store in Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa. On Friday, Feb. 28, the Commerce Department issues its January report on consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo people leave a retail clothing store in Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa. On Friday, Feb. 28, the Commerce Department issues its January report on consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County continues to prepare for some businesses to reopen Friday, even as recent data showed a slight increase in the rate of individuals testing positive for COVID-19.

Local health officials reported 159 new cases and eight deaths Wednesday, raising the county totals to 4,319 cases and 158 deaths.

County Chairman Greg Cox said that while the county is prepared to meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders to reopen some retail, manufacturing and logistics businesses, it ultimately held power in deciding which were going to open.

Some businesses might not have the staff, supplies or protocols in place to safely reopen, and the county would not allow those unprepared businesses to open in an unsafe manner “no matter what the governor says,” Cox said.

To avoid that situation, he encouraged business owners to visit www.sandiegocounty.gov/coronavirus.html to find a “safe reopening plan” template to help prepare.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said employers and employees should get used to increased health surveillance, including daily temperature checks. He said the best way to prevent the spread of the illness is “changing our individual behavior,” but that by sending home sick employees, businesses could help.

San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman urged county officials to give San Diegans the right to choose.

“San Diegans have sacrificed much to flatten the curve and many are now struggling. Our region has shown that we can act responsibly,” he said. “I urge the County Board of Supervisors to begin immediate work so our region can move more quickly through phase two and open more businesses.”

The San Diego region’s estimated unemployment rate has risen to 26.8% amid the coronavirus pandemic, a high not seen since the Great Depression, according to a report released Wednesday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Wednesday’s deaths included three women in their 70s to 80s and seven men ranging from their 40s to their 80s.

An Otay Mesa Detention Center detainee also died Wednesday from COVID-19, marking the first confirmed death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee from the virus, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly 200 confirmed cases have made the facility’s outbreak the largest out of any ICE detention center in the country.

The county and its health partners completed 2,260 tests Wednesday, raising the total completed tests to 65,737. Of those, around 7% returned positive, a slightly higher rate than the rolling average.

On Wednesday, 363 COVID-19 positive individuals were in the hospital, 133 in intensive care. Since the health crisis began, 882 people with novel coronavirus have been admitted to the hospital, 281 of whom were sent to the ICU. The county estimates 2,333 people have recovered from the illness.

These numbers translate to 20.4% of all positive-testing individuals being hospitalized, 6.5% spending at least some time in intensive care and 3.7% dying of COVID-19.

According to data presented by Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, men are more likely to die of the illness — they represent 56.3% of the fatalities — and people identified as white make up around 49% of the deaths, with Latinos not far behind at 39% of all COVID-19 deaths in the county.

On Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a framework for safely reopening businesses amid the pandemic. As part of the plan, the county will send a letter to Newsom requesting “total local control” on COVID-19 decisions.

The framework also offers guidelines on employee and customer safety, sanitation, physical distancing, and general business practices and communications. Recommendations were based on input from the Responsible COVID-19 Economic Reopening Advisory Group, which includes county supervisors, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, small business owners and construction industry associations.

Another SANDAG study released Wednesday found that local freeway traffic has decreased by 44% since the COVID-19 stay at home orders began in the San Diego region, including 52% on State Route 163 and 50% on Interstate 5. The SANDAG research and program management team analyzed travel on San Diego County freeways from mid-March to mid-April this year, and when compared to the same time last year, traffic volumes at eight hotspots decreased an average 41 percent. Additionally, speeds during peak periods averaged 30 mph higher.