San Diego County reports third coronavirus death, fifth cluster

Rubber gloves, a mask, and what appears to be laboratory specimen depictions of the coronavirus are seen Wednesday on the Cardiff Kook statue in Encinitas.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A third San Diego County resident has died of COVID-19 and a new cluster of infected people has been identified at an assisted-living community in Rancho San Diego, local health officials reported Thursday.

“It’s obviously with deep remorse and regret that we extend our condolences to that family and that individual’s loved ones,” county Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Yphantides said in announcing the death of an 87-year-old woman.

As of Thursday evening, the county had reported 341 cases of infected residents, an increase of 64 in one day.

The death was the third local life lost to the novel coronavirus this week. On Sunday, health officials said a male county resident in his early 70s had died while hospitalized in Santa Clara. On Tuesday, officials announced the death of an elderly person who had other health conditions.


The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in California.

Seniors and people with underlying health conditions are considered to be most at risk of dying from the disease. In San Diego County, the disease has struck people of all ages, including two infants who were reported infected Tuesday and one 6-week-old reported Wednesday.

Also on Thursday, Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of epidemiology and immunization services for the county, confirmed that four employees of La Vida Real, a senior living community in Rancho San Diego, had tested positive for the disease.

Community events at the facility are canceled, the on-site restaurant and dining rooms are closed and replaced with room service, and all visitors must be screened.

Under the new policy, even family members and friends can’t visit unless they are considered essential, meaning they are adults who are medical providers, hospice care providers or are visiting residents at the end of life.

The COVID-19 cluster is the fifth in the county, including a cluster of five people who tested positive at the Veterans Affairs office in Mission Valley, which was confirmed Wednesday.

The ship, which has a capacity of 1,000 beds, will house patients who do not have COVID-19 in an attempt to free up regional hospital beds for those who do.

New county residents who have tested positive include a city of San Diego lifeguard.


“This is one of the reasons access has been closed to beaches and parks,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “You can help prevent the spread of this virus among our public safety professionals who keep you, your families and our communities safe.”

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department also announced Thursday that a nurse assigned to Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. The nurse has been isolated at home since then.

The Sheriff’s Department reported that all inmates and staff who may have come into contact with the nurse have been identified.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said 257 hand-washing stations have been installed throughout the county, and more will be coming. Public health outreach teams also have distributed 1,785 hygiene kits to homeless people, and portable toilets for homeless people are planned.


Fletcher also announced that the county has been working with UC San Diego to convert an empty dormitory into an alternative home for patients who are not well enough to go home, but do not have to be hospitalized. The plan would free up more hospital rooms for patients who do need them, he said.

The county has taken aggressive steps in fighting the spread of the highly contagious disease over the last two weeks. All bars and other nonessential businesses have been closed, restaurants can serve only take-out and all gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people. The city of San Diego this week closed access to beaches and parks.

The Sheriff’s Department has not ticketed anyone for violating social distancing orders, and police officers have not yet issued any citations in San Diego, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Oceanside, El Cajon, Escondido, La Mesa or in Harbor Police’s jurisdiction, according to police officials and spokespeople in those cities.

“Most people have been pretty cooperative,” Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey said Thursday.


Oceanside did, however, close its fishing pier Thursday and instated a “soft” closure of beaches, meaning gatherings are not allowed but people still can walk, jog or surf. The city earlier had closed its parking lots west of the train tracks near beaches, and 75 social distancing signs are placed in the area.

But police in San Diego and Chula Vista, the county’s two most populous cities, warned that enforcement could be coming.

“Everyone we’ve contacted so far has adhered to our educational effort,” San Diego police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said. “But with the weekend coming up, and the weather turning nice, if push comes to shove, we will be citing people.”

Warth and Riggins write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.