Fourth coronavirus cluster identified in San Diego County as cases near 300

Two men walk along Camino de la Plaza in San Ysidro, the San Diego border neighborhood, on Friday.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A fourth coronavirus cluster was identified in San Diego County on Wednesday, and health officials warned the outbreak is going to get much worse in the near future, especially if residents ignore critical social-distancing orders.

The number of people with COVID-19 reached 297 on Wednesday: 277 county residents and 20 travelers held in local quarantine. The number was up 55 from the day before.

Of those cases, 20% were hospitalized and 9% required intensive care. The youngest was 6 weeks old, and the oldest was over 80, health officials said. Two county residents have died of the disease.


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Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of epidemiology and immunization services for San Diego County, confirmed at a daily briefing that a cluster had been identified at the Mission Valley Veterans Administration office.

“We are under an active investigation with the staff at that site,” he said. “We have done some notifications through the VA and through their system. We believe that this cluster of cases has been identified. However, there may be more close contacts that are identified as time goes by.”

Television news later reported that an email had been sent to employees at the VA office that day outlining the extent of the cluster. The email reportedly said five veterans had tested positive, including one who has been hospitalized in intensive care. An additional 12 people are in isolation with tests pending, and 126 people are under investigation because they may have been in contact with others carrying the novel coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Long Beach has been closed to visitors while the facility treats has COVID-19.

Previously, the county had identified a cluster of four active-duty military members, a cluster of 10 people who went on a ski trip to Colorado and a cluster of four people who had traveled out of the area.

New COVID-19 patients include a Naval Air Station North Island Child Development Center civilian employee who tested positive Sunday, according to a base statement Wednesday.

Base spokesman Kevin Dixon said the employee began feeling ill two weeks ago and has been absent from work since. An investigation found no children or employees had symptoms of the virus, and the center remains open.

The center has a capacity of 274 children, but daily attendance has dropped to 40 since the outbreak began, Dixon said.

In Coronado, students and teachers at two public schools may have been exposed to COVID-19 because “an individual connected” to those schools has tested positive for the virus, Coronado Unified School District officials said.

Officials have given a grim outlook for how the disease could spread, and again emphasized the need for people to keep a safe distance from each another.

“In San Diego, we are at the very beginning of our exposure and our engagement with the coronavirus,” county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. “The situation that we face in San Diego will get worse and will continue to get worse before it gets better.”

Fletcher also cautioned people that the escalating number of cases being reported is not reflective of the actual number of infections in the county.

“The real number is probably 10 times greater than what we are reporting,” said Fletcher, who braced people to prepare for more infections, more hospitalizations and more deaths.

Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Union-Tribune staff writers Andrew Dyer, Morgan Cook and Paul Sisson contributed to this report.