San Diego County

7 Shocking Pandemic Moments: Flights From Wuhan, Unhappy Firsts and Record Deaths

Some of us continue to be shocked by the events of the coronavirus pandemic with every new day. Others stopped feeling shocked somewhere around May.

Here's a look back at some of the biggest moments of the pandmic.

Flights From Wuhan, China

American passengers evacuated from Wuhan, China have arrived at MCAS Miramar, where they will be quarantined for up to 14 days.

It was early February. We could eat at restaurants, gather with multiple households, and shoes, pants, and a shirt were the only clothing required while grocery shopping.

Our lives were like they had always been, but there was somewhat of an elephant in the room in the form of a federal quarantine operation at MCAS Miramar. The operation gave the county its first brush with the deadly disease known as COVID-19, which had already devastated other parts of the world.

Four flights from Wuhan, China -- widely considered the epicenter of the pandemic -- brought American citizens who evacuated China to the military base for quarantine and observation.

County health officials gave daily updates on the status of the quarantined individuals, including whether they were felling symptoms, if they were brought to the hospital or if they had tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus.

They were set up in bachelor's quarters on base with basic commodities, and used their devices to share screen time with loved ones on the outside, before the rest of us had to do it. And those of us on the outside feared what might happen if the disease was passed on to someone outside the quarantine group, who could then pass it along to the community.

Researchers now believe COVID-19 could have been spreading in San Diego much earlier, we just didn't know to look for it. We didn't know it at the time, but widespread community transmission was inevitable.

The Firsts of Many

Before there were 130,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases among San Diego County residents, there was one. Before there were more than 1,200 deaths, there was one.

News of the first COVID-19 patient sick from community spread broke March 9. It was a woman in her 50s who had recently traveled overseas. Before the end of March, the first cases involving infants were reported, COVID-19 had spread into the ranks of our first responder agencies, cases were reported on Navy ships and case clusters were traced back to local military installations.

The first county resident death was reported mid-March, and by the 31st we had lost nine souls to COVID-19. U.S. Deaths topped 3,100 while national confirmed cases shot past 160,000.

In a matter of weeks, it was clear San Diego County, and the rest of the world, was in the throes of a pandemic. The White House estimated up to 240,000 Americans could die before it was over, and here we stand, less than a fortnight away from turning the calendar to 2021, and around 320,000 Americans have been lost.

San Diego County has surpassed 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths. NBC 7’s Nicole Gomez has more details for you.

The Shutdowns

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news celebrity actor Tom Hanks and NBA player Rudy Gobert were reportedly COVID-19 positive? It was March 12.

Hanks was among the first, or perhaps the earliest high-profile celebrity sickened by the disease, and his Instagram post sharing his diagnosis caught the world's attention.

Within the hour, the NBA confirmed Gobert had tested positive. Games slated for that night were postponed and eventually canceled, and every sports league followed suit. Seasons ended up pausing for months, or in the case of NCAA basketball, outright canceled.

While Hanks' and Gobert's cases had very little to do with San Diego, the ripple effect from those two announcements immediately preceded one of the biggest economic shifts since the Great Depression. One of the biggest catalysts for the county's economic dive started when parents could no longer send their kids to school, which was the case the very next day when every single school district in the county closed their campuses.

On March 16, during the first of what would become daily news conferences updating the county on the status and impacts of the pandemic, San Diego County officials implemented the first Public Health Order. For likely the first time in our lives, there were laws put in place that limited the number of people that could gather in one place -- first it was 250 then it quickly became 50.

The order also ordered restaurants to close on-site dining and serve to-go only. Bars that didn't serve food were also shut down. And, soon, layoffs followed, putting the entire food service industry in a hole that will take years to fill.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher detailed the region's new regulations to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Next San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued a state of emergency, and other cities in the county followed. A suspension on evictions and foreclosures was implemented in an attempt to keep San Diegans knocked down by job loss from landing on the streets.

The rules and restrictions since March have been tightened, loosened, rolled back and reintroduced several times over. And after months of seemingly never-ending, flip-flopping restrictions on restaurants, two San Diego strip clubs came in and turned everything upside down.

Strip Clubs Take On State, County

Where do we even begin with this one?

When Southern California was placed under a stay-at-home order in the beginning of December, restaurants were forced to stop all on-site dining, Gyms were forced to stop outdoor workouts, and outdoor services at churches and places of worship were stopped.

Meanwhile, at two San Diego strip clubs, patrons were allowed to eat and gaze from a distance, indoors, until they couldn't eat or gaze any longer.

The two clubs, Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club, were in the midst of a court dispute between Governor Gavin Newsom and San Diego County.

Last week, when county leaders were expecting San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil to rule on whether or not the strip clubs could continue to operate indoors with COVID-19 protocols in place, Wohlfeil surprised everyone and issued a temporary injunction that exempted the clubs, and every restaurant in the county, from shutdowns and cease and desist orders.

NBC 7's Jackie Crea breaks down the impacts of the judge's ruling, and heard reaction from San Diegans in North Park.

San Diego County Supervisors were caught so off guard they had to suspend enforcement of the public health orders at restaurants until they could make sense of the ruling.

Meanwhile, restaurant owners saw the greenlight and opened up their doors to sit-down customers. Some kept diners outside, like they had been allowed to do for some time before the most recent stay-at-home order, while others sat customers outside, inside and at the bar.

No one knew how long the businesses would be able to operate without the pressure of county enforcement, but when a state appellate court ruled against Wohlfeil just two days later, many restaurant owners ignored it.

That defiance continued into this week. Most just said they were tired of it all: tired of the back and forth, and tired of the revenue losses and layoffs. County leaders admit that the inconsistency in the rules, and elected officials' split stanc on the matter, is making it ahrd for them to enforce the public health order.

The question now is, will the county ever regain control?

The Second Surge

One common theme throughout all of these "moments" is that they aren't really moments at all. They're more like phases. News, developments, events that take place over the course of days or weeks.

A quick look at county data showing COVID-19 cases since February shows we've been stretching the peak of this second wave since mid-October.

San Diego County

There are more than a handful of data points that tell us just how serious of a predicament we're in. How about the fact that Southern California's ICU bed availability is at 0%? Would that qualify as shocking?

How about the fact that our county's two-week average daily positivity rate -- the average percentage of COVID cases among tests reported over two weeks -- is around three times what it was just at the beginning of November?

Or that on back-to-back weeks, San Diego County set reporting records for COVID-19-related deaths, or that 30% of the county's deaths happened just over the last two months.

The good vaccine news is tempered by worsening case data for the county and state. NBC 7's Alexis Rivas has more.

You can check out more county data here. There's plenty of "shocking" to go around.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

December has been a huge month on the vaccine news front. Vaccines from several pharmaceutical companies have been approved, and distribution and administration are underway in San Diego according to schedule.

Up first are critical health care workers and long-term facility patients.

Carlos Alegre, a long-term care patient at the Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, received the vaccine on Dec. 21, 2020.
Brittanee Randle made history in San Diego as the first non-military resident to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The general public will have to wait a few months before they can get pricked and vaccinated, but when the times comes many will be eager to get in line.

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