San Diego County is likely to report its 200,000th case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday as a surge in spread due to gatherings over the holidays pushes daily cases of COVID-19 into the 3,000-4,000 range.
The county on Wednesday reported 3,261 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 201,580 since Feb. 14, 2020, when local public health officials first began monitoring the virus in the San Diego community.
In the months that followed, the number of cases began to grow, coinciding, at first, with increases in testing and the first surge, in July. Even still, it took 10 months for the region to surpass 100,000 cases, a milestone marked on Dec. 10.
It took one more month for that number to double.
"On Dec. 25, reported cases were over 2,000 daily," Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten told the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. "Case counts have continued to rise, going to 3,000 to 4,000 cases reported daily. Last Friday, we surpassed a sobering threshold of 4,550 cases in one day.”
Of course, case numbers alone aren't the best indicator of how rampant the virus is spreading in the community, but an exponential increase in the 14-day positivity rate of cases among tests performed starting in November shows how the rate of spread increased among San Diegans.
At the start of November, the 14-day positivity rate was about 3%. By the end of the month, that number had doubled. and by the turn of the new year, about 12% of tests were coming back positive. That number was 14% on Jan 11.
Wooten said hospitalizations and deaths usually lag about three weeks behind any increase in cases, but local hospitals have been strained since early December due to mid-November's spike in cases. As of Jan. 10, only 40 ICU beds were staffed and immediately available, about 5% of the county's total.
Also alarming is a new viral strain of COVID-19 called B.1.1.7. that is 40-70% more contagious. Wooten emphasized that there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or death, or that it is insusceptible to the COVID-19 vaccine. Only about 3,000 positive COVID-19 cases have been genetically sequenced for the new strain, of which 38 cases were confirmed as of Tuesday.
A positive sign, though, is the county's efforts to ramp up vaccinations among health care professionals. On Tuesday, Wooten said they were working to get doses to about 620,000 health care professionals, which fall into California's Phase 1A vaccination strategy. Nick Macchione said the county expected to be vaccinating the next group, people who fall into Phase 1B, in several weeks.