Covid-19

Coronavirus Pandemic Hits San Diego: What Happened in March 2020

The coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County in mid-March 2020. Here's a look at what happened, locally, in those first few weeks

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COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China in late 2019, reached San Diego County in mid-March, just as the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.

About two weeks before March 2020, San Diego County had started feeling the effects and weight of the disease that was quickly spreading. At that time, MCAS Miramar was chosen by the government to house people in need of quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

This data is not a full representation of cases. There has been very limited testing so far. Therefore, the actual number of cases per zip code could vary greatly. Officials with the County Health and Human Services Agency say the number of people infected with COVID-19 in San Diego is around 10 times the reported total.

Other Data: Is San Diego County "flattening the curve?"; COVID-19 case totals by age and gender; Map of case totals by city of residence; Case totals by race/ethnicity; Tests reported by day; Statistics regarding hospitalized patients.


Here's what followed in March, in reverse chronological order.

March 21 to March 31, 2020

March 31
The county of San Diego reported its largest single-day jump in cases to date -- 131 new positive COVID-19 patients, bringing the total reported to the county to 734. Nine people have died.

"We have not yet reached the peak of our curve and we should all expect to see our numbers continue to increase in the days to come," said county Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten.

On the national level, more than 164,610 confirmed cases have been reported, well surpassing Italy's 101,739 cases and China's 82,240 infections. Deaths in the U.S. topped 3,100.

The White House is projecting that between 100,000 to 240,000 people in the U.S. will die from the coronavirus pandemic if social distancing measures continue to be followed. Leaders said during a briefing that if no measures were taken the number could be in the millions.

Back in San Diego, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening officer at San Diego International Airport has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the TSA. The individual last worked on March 24 at security checkpoint 6 in Terminal 2 West with an assigned shift from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., a TSA spokesperson said.

A San Diego Airport vendor employee has also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the airport. There were no further details about the employee or company.

HHSA confirmed at least one passenger and three crew members from the Celebrity Eclipse cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19. Officials said the process to drop off the remaining 2,300 passengers would not change because of this confirmed case. The ship arrived at the Port of San Diego on March 30 and should finish disembarking on March 31, officials said.

The county also reported the first positive COVID-19 cases among the homeless population. Three unsheltered individuals, who were referred for medical attention by nurses with their outreach team, tested positive, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. All were in isolation in motel rooms secured by the county for this use.

March 30
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 603 total cases. A San Diego State University student who recently moved off-campus has tested positive for COVID-19, the university said. The individual was in recovery and in isolation off-campus.

A second SDPD officer has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total public safety officer count to seven in the city, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.

The city of San Diego paused its police academy, postponed two firefighter academies, and postponed an advanced lifeguard academy, the mayor announced.

Two employees at the Sprouts Farmers Market on El Camino Real in Carlsbad have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the company. The individuals were last in the store on March 15 and 17, respectively.

County officials announced no cruise ships may dock in San Diego to disembark passengers or employees after March 31 but may be able to dock for fuel and provisions.

The Celebrity Eclipse cruise ship dropped off thousands of passengers over a two-day period, according to Port of San Diego officials.

March 29
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 519 total cases. The county said there have been five total food handler cases included in the county's COVID-19 case count: four restaurant employees and the previously announced Albertsons employee.

March 28
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 488 total cases and two additional deaths, bringing the total to seven. A 25-year-old man without existing health problems died of COVID-19 in Riverside but was a San Diego County resident, according to county health officials. The county also reported a man in his 80s died of complications from COVID-19.

UC San Diego sent an alert to its community confirming a second student resident has tested positive for COVID-19. That student was in "close contact" of the first student case reported on March 23, according to the university. The second student "has self-isolated and remains isolated while receiving care."

A worker at the Albertsons grocery store on W. Valley Parkway in Escondido has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual has not worked at the store since March 24, according to an Albertsons spokesperson.

San Diego County leaders extended the public health orders indefinitely until further notice.

March 27
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 417 total cases and two additional deaths. County health officials said one man in his mid-50s and another man in his early-80s died of COVID-19.

The first San Diego Police Department officer and three additional San Diego lifeguards tested positive for COVID-19, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.

Officials also confirmed the death of an 86-year-old man from the Grand Princess cruise ship after he and other passengers were placed under federal quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. He died at a local hospital but was not included in the county figures because he was not a San Diego County resident.

March 26
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 341 total cases and a third death. County health officials said third death was an 87-year-old female who died from complications.

A San Diego County lifeguard tested positive to COVID-19, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. A nurse who works at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee tested positive for COVID-19. The nurse has been isolated at home since March 22, after feeling ill. 

March 25
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 297 total cases. County health officials launched COVID-19 exposure investigations at the Stellar Care assisted living facility in the College Area and at La Vida Real retirement community in Rancho San Diego after positive cases involving residents or staff were reported there.

Another "cluster" of patients was identified at the Mission Valley VA office, how many are in the cluster was not specified. A person connected to Coronado Middle School has also tested positive, the county said.

March 24
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 242 total cases. The update included a second COVID-19 death -- a 76-year-old man with significant health issues, Dr. Wooten said.

The county also reported its first positive infant cases: a 6-week-old boy and a 4-month-old girl. Both are currently isolated in their homes, Dr. Wooten told NBC 7.

U.S. Navy Special Warfare said two San Diego-based sailors who tested positive for COVID-19 are the unit's first cases in the southwest region. This story first reported the sailors were SEALs, but Navy Special Warfare did not confirm this.

Three U.S. Navy sailors assigned to San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for COVID-19, the Navy said. The ship deployed in January and its most recent port call was in Vietnam about 15 days ago.

"These are our first three cases of COVID-19 on a ship that is deployed," Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said.

Naval Base Coronado confirmed a civilian employee working at the Naval Air Station North Island Child Development Center tested positive for COVID-19 on March 22. The base said the person is "at home taking proper precautions."

March 23
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 230 total cases in the county. Moving forward, the county will stop separately listing cases that originated from federal quarantine.

A UC San Diego on-campus student has tested positive for COVID-19, the university said, adding, "The student resident has self-isolated and remains isolated while receiving care."

A firefighter with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has tested positive for COVID-19. SDFD Chief Colin Stowell said 29 firefighters and three lifeguards are under quarantine and isolation, awaiting tests for themselves or from patients they have been exposed to.

Four people with the San Diego Police Department are showing symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19, Chief David Nisleit said. Of those four, two officers are awaiting test results and two department members have not yet been tested, Lt. Shawn Takeuchi told NBC 7. Eleven additional individuals that may have been exposed are under self-quarantine, Takeuchi said.

March 22
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 194 total cases in the county plus 11 federal quarantine cases. One San Diego County resident has died. The individual was a man in his early 70s receiving care in Santa Clara County after returning from a trip to Hawaii, Dr. Wilma Wooten said.

The active-duty parent of a young child who attends the Fairhaven Child Development Center on Naval Base San Diego tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17, the base said.

Five additional sailors assigned to San Diego-based ships tested positive for COVID-19 on March 21, the Navy announced.

County officials announced San Diego has been selected by the state for a mobile field hospital which could provide up to 250 additional beds.

March 21
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 148 total cases in the county plus 11 federal quarantine cases. A firefighter-paramedic with Vista Fire Department has tested positive for COVID-19, the department said. The individual was recently on duty but was asymptomatic. They are currently self-isolated at home and resting, according to the department.

Kelvin Barrios, a candidate for San Diego City Council District 9, tested positive for COVID-19.

San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy posted on his Facebook page that he was hospitalized for the novel coronavirus.

March 9 to March 20, 2020

March 20
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 120 total cases in the county plus 11 federal quarantine cases. There were 1,049 reported tests, as of March 20.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar confirmed a third Marine stationed at the base tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19. The U.S. Navy announced two sailors assigned to separate San Diego-based ships tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19. Another sailor assigned to Commander, Naval Air Forces in San Diego tested positive for COVID-19 on March 18, the Navy said.

Port of San Diego officials said no new cruise ship tours would be departing from San Diego Bay until at least mid-April.

March 19
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 97 total cases in the county plus eight federal quarantine cases.

Councilman Steve Padilla was admitted to UCSD Thornton Hospital and placed on a respirator in its intensive care unit Thursday night after experiencing worsening symptoms of COVID-19, his daughter, Ashleigh, said in a statement.

The North County Fire Protection District reported four employees who had prolonged contact with a positive employee all tested positive for COVID-19. Patients the employees may have come in contact with have been notified, the department said.

March 18
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 75 total cases in the county plus five federal quarantine cases.

CRSSD Festival organizers said two people who attended the concert March 7-8 tested positive for COVID-19. They are believed to have contracted the disease outside the festival. Attendees have been notified.

The U.S. Navy said a second sailor assigned to USS Boxer, homeported in San Diego, tested presumptive positive for COVID-19 on March 17. Both sailors were on leave at the time of diagnosis.

MCAS Miramar confirmed a second Marine stationed at the base has tested positive for COVID-19.

March 17
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 55 cases in the county plus five federal quarantine cases.

The cases include a "cluster" of seven patients who had contact with each other during a ski trip in Colorado, and a cluster of four connected to a Navy member, according to the county.

The U.S. Navy said a sailor attending a course at Naval Base San Diego tested positive for COVID-19 on March 14. The sailor was assigned to USS Essex (LHD 2), which was ported in San Diego at the time.

The U.S. Navy said a sailor assigned to USS Coronado, homeported in San Diego, tested positive for COVID-19.

The HHSA told the San Diego Unified School District a person connected to several schools in the La Jolla community tested positive for COVID-19. The schools include Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla Elementary, and La Jolla High School.

Anyone connected to those schools should take extra precautions, the district said.

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved the Mayor's State of Emergency declaration.

March 16
As cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County rose to 51 positives, health officials issued a public health order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus among the community. The order restricted gatherings to less than 50, restricted restaurants and more.

The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 51 cases in the county plus four federal quarantine cases.

A U.S. Navy Sailor from Naval Base Point Loma tested "presumptive positive" for COVID-19 pending confirmation by the CDC, the U.S. Navy reported. The individual is in quarantine and others who came into close contact have been notified and are self-isolating, according to the U.S. Navy.

An Escondido firefighter paramedic tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Escondido Fire Department. The firefighter reportedly came in contact with people who subsequently tested positive. Other EFD staff who were in contact with the paramedic at work did not have symptoms and tested negative, but remained in quarantine for monitoring, the department said.

Note: On March 16, county health officials said they would no longer describe HHSA-administered tests not confirmed by the CDC as "presumptive positive." Going forward, tests conducted by the HHSA are considered final. After local healthcare facilities and commercial testing centers surpass a certain number of positive or negative tests, their tests will also be considered confirmed.


San Diego's Public Health Order

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has taken measures to protect the community against the spread of the novel coronavirus by issuing a Public Health Order. The order was modified several times in March and April 2020 to restrict gatherings, shutter the dining rooms of restaurants, and close down public areas. Some of the rules included in the San Diego County public health order are:

  • Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited, and non-essential gatherings of any size are strongly discouraged.
  • Bars and adult entertainment establishments that serve alcohol and don't serve food are ordered to close.
  • On-site dining at restaurants is not allowed, but pick-up, delivery, and drive-thru services are allowed.
  • Employees of essential businesses who come in regular contact with the public (retail stores, pharmacies, gas stations, etc.) are required to wear facial coverings.
  • Businesses have the right to refuse service to patrons who do not use facial coverings, though facial coverings are not mandatory but suggested for non-essential workers.
  • Open businesses must post sanitation/social distance protocols publicly by April 7.
  • Parking lots for public parks and recreational areas, including beaches, must close. It is up to each jurisdiction if they will close off parks or recreational areas.
  • Public or private schools and colleges are not allowed to hold classes or activities.
  • Anyone coming into San Diego County on flights connected to or originating from countries under the Level 3 Travel Advisory shall be subject to 14 days of home-quarantine.
  • The maximum penalty for violating the Public Health Order is a $1,000 fine or 6 months in jail.
  • Click here for complete details of the latest Public Health Order.

March 15
The county updated its COVID-19 case numbers, confirming 35 cases in the county plus four federal quarantine cases.

The U.S. Navy said a sailor assigned to USS Boxer, home ported in San Diego, tested presumptive positive for COVID-19 on March 13. It was the first positive case involving a sailor aboard a Navy ship.

Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) sent a note out to families saying an individual at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. The district said the individual is in home isolation and is being monitored by the HHSA

March 14
A second U.S. Marine stationed at MCAS Miramar tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Marine Corps confirmed. Both Marines that tested positive did not come in contact with each other, officials confirm.

Later in the day, Navy region Southwest Officials confirmed a U.S. Sailor from Naval Base San Diego tested presumptive positive for the novel coronavirus.

Two health workers at UC San Diego Health tested positive for COVID-19, due to exposure and infection in the community, according to UC San Diego Health.

Chula Vista City Council Member Steve Padilla also disclosed he tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first government leader in San Diego County to do so. In announcing his positive test, the council member said it is his "duty to be transparent for the entire community."

North County Fire Protection District reported a firefighter/paramedic employee who was asymptomatic at work and became symptomatic at home has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. The employee presented a low risk to the public and is quarantining at home, the district said Saturday night.

The San Diego Jewish Academy sent a note to parents Saturday stating that a parent in the community had tested positive for COVID-19. They said the parent was at school during the past week and they have children in first, third and sixth grades.

March 13
The HHSA confirmed four new cases of COVID-19, including:

  • A man in his 40s who is hospitalized and in isolation and traveled to New York and Philadelphia
  • A man in his 30s who is in isolation at home and traveled to Chicago
  • A woman in her 70s who is at home in isolation
  • An SDSU study abroad student who recently returned from Italy and is now self-quarantined at home out of the county

The University of San Diego said they were notified by HHSA that a graduate student at the University of San Diego also tested positive for COVID-19. The student was living off-campus and no other students or staff have been exposed "based on the circumstances surrounding this confirmed case," according to the HHSA.

March 12
County and public health officials held a press conference to announce five more cases of the new coronavirus and the U.S. Marine Corps announced one case, which included:

  • A man in his 50s who is at a local hospital in isolation. He may be the county's first case of community spread because of his lack of travel
  • A woman in her 70s who was in federal quarantine at MCAS Miramar after arriving via plane from the Grand Princess Cruise Ship in Oakland. The woman was transferred to a local hospital where she is in isolation
  • A man in his 40s who may have a history of travel to Colorado. he is in self-quarantine at home
  • A man in his 50s with a history of travel to Colorado
  • A woman in her 70s who recently traveled on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship and was reported to HHSA by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She is in self-quarantine at home
  • A U.S. Marine stationed at MCAS Miramar who recently traveled to Washington tested positive, the USMC said. A second Marine is currently under investigation

The U.S. Marine Corps also confirmed on March 12 that a Marine stationed at MCAS Miramar tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. At least one other Marine at the base was under investigation.

March 9
A woman in her 50s who recently traveled overseas was the region's first COVID-19 patient. She tested "presumptive positive" with the HHSA March 9 and is awaiting final confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control.

The patient had contact with one person in her home and that person is under self-quarantine, but there was no suspected contact with the general public, according to Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch.


Quarantine Operations

On March 18, a 151-room Ramada hotel in Kearny Mesa was chosen to house quarantined patients held at MCAS Miramar.

The hotel along Kearny Mesa Road, which has been secured from public access since March 16, was tapped by the U.S. government because of its "location, security, and established protocols to support COVID-19 quarantine individuals," according to the Ramada by Wyndham.

The Federal Government Health and Human Services and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services will oversee the quarantine, the hotel said.

More than 480 passengers from a coronavirus-ridden cruise ship that docked at the Port of Oakland were flown to MCAS Miramar March 10-12 to complete a mandatory 14-day federal quarantine.

On March 27, Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch said all but three of the passengers have returned home after 14-days of quarantine, including those who were at the Ramada Hotel.

McDonald continued to say that a person who tested positive for COVID-19 that was aboard the ship died at a local San Diego hospital. The person was 86-years-old and was not a resident in San Diego County. His death will not be counted in the daily updates.

Three individuals remain at local hospitals, there was no further information on their status, McDonald said.

In mid-February, the Department of Defense selected MCAS Miramar to house patients who need to be quarantined for their potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Planes with more than 230 American evacuees from the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China arrived at the base in mid-February.

A handful of patients showed symptoms of cough and fever and were tested for the disease. Two were later admitted to area hospitals for treatment of COVID-19. Since their cases were handled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was unclear whether either was a San Diego County resident. All quarantined individuals have since been released.


Schools and School Districts

On March 13, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten shut down the second-largest school district in California until April 6.

It was the first district closure in San Diego County but within minutes, other school districts followed suit. Within a few hours, every school district in the county had closed. For a full list of closed schools and school districts, and closure dates, click here.

See SDUSD's coronavirus update page for more information.

Free prepared meals will be handed out to students at eight schools within the city of San Diego. To see a full list and more detailed information, click here.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy announced March 13 all schools within the San Diego Catholic Diocese would close starting March 16.

Training Support Command at Naval Base San Diego was temporarily closed on March 14 due to three Sailors testing positive for COVID-19.


Colleges and Universities

The following universities and colleges made changes after the virus appeared in San Diego County, like moving classes online and canceling or postponing events on campus. Click the links to see specific changes and effective dates.

UC San Diego, San Diego State University, California State University San Marcos, Point Loma Nazarene University, University of San Diego, San Diego Community College District, Southwestern College, Palomar College, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District


Impacted Events, Activities and Attractions

A list of impacted local events and activities can be found here. Some popular San Diego attractions have also been closed.

Beaches, parks, boardwalks and other open spaces in San Diego County were ordered to close March 23 to restrict unsafe gatherings prohibited by state and local laws.

On March 18 San Diego-area tribal governments announced the closures of the Golden Acorn Casino, Jamul Casino, Sycuan Casino, Barona Resort and Casino, and Viejas Casino and Resort through at least the end of March, effective March 20.

Gyms and fitness centers were also ordered to close.

All daily and Sunday masses in the San Diego Catholic Diocese are canceled until further notice, effective March 16. Parishes will remain open. Mass will be streamed live in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese weekly at sdcatholic.org starting March 15.

Rock Church San Diego services are canceled until further notice, effective March 12, but will be streamed online.


Impacted Restaurants and Retail Stores

On March 18, the Las Americas outlets, the Fashion Valley and Mission Valley malls, and several other major shopping centers were either closed completely or limited to only essential retail.

On March 16 San Diego County closed down bars and adult establishments that serve alcohol, as well as in-restaurant dining.

City of San Diego officials also laid out enforceable mandates through an executive order for gatherings, bars, and dining establishments, following the county's updated guidelines.

Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey announced he would temporarily close all nine of his restaurants across San Diego County on March 15. To see the full list, click here.

Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville USA announced they are closing their local stores until further notice.


Sports

Numerous sports agencies, both college and professional, announce season suspensions and cancellations amid concerns of the novel coronavirus. NBC 7 SportsWrap has been tracking what games, events, and openings are affected, including the San Diego Padres home opener.

February 2020

Two Americans who were evacuated from the center of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China tested positive for COVID-19 while under federal quarantine at MCAS Miramar. The two patients, who were not county residents, were treated at local hospitals and released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pitching in During the Pandemic: Stories of San Diegans Doing Good: Read more stories about San Diegans finding creative ways to lend support. Have you heard about a story we should share? Let us know

Text "COSD COVID19" to 468311 to receive updates and alerts from the county. Click here to find different ways to help your community during the pandemic.

San Diego County would like to remind everyone if you or someone you care about is experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis, please call the Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

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