San Diego County

May 2020: A Month of Adaptation in San Diego County's Fight Against COVID-19

In May, San Diego County moved into new phases of reopening, with many changes, rules and ways to adapt to life in the times of the novel coronavirus

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May 2020 was a month of adaptation in San Diego County as health officials rolled out new ways to reopen parts of local life.

With changes and public health rules in place, more restrictions on recreational activities were lifted throughout the month and more businesses -- including restaurant dining rooms and in-person retail -- reopened.

Meanwhile, there were days when health officials reported no deaths in San Diego County, and days when the rolling average of positive COVID-19 tests continued to decline.

Little by little, life began to pick back up, but with stark warnings from public health officials that guidelines needed to be strictly followed in order to keep flattening the curve.

Here's a look back at what happened in San Diego during the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020.

Updates on what's happening in San Diego in June can be found daily here. And, here's a breakdown of coronavirus cases in San Diego by zip code, updated daily.

This data is not a full representation of cases. Totals are based on patients' resident zip code, and are not a representation of where someone contracted COVID-19. Because not every single resident is tested regularly, officials with the County Health and Human Services Agency say the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the county is likely much higher than 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; Statistics regarding deceased patients.

Here's a look back at May in San Diego County.

May 31
San Diego County reported 96 new positive cases out of 3,929 tests for a 2.4% positive rate. The 14-day rolling average of positive tests continues to decrease and now stands at 3%. There were zero additional deaths reported, holding the total at 269. As protests continued around the country, some health officials worried that public efforts to contain the disease in the future could be impacted.

May 30
San Diego County reported 145 new positive COVID-19 cases out of 4,300 tests with a 3.4% positive rate. The 14-day rolling average of positive tests, at this point, was 3.1%. Three additional deaths brought the total to 269. Those deaths were all men between age 81 to 96, who all had underlying medical conditions, the county said.

May 29
The county reported 140 new positive COVID-19 cases out of 4,624 tests with a 3.1% positive rate. Also, six additional deaths were reported for a total of 266.

May 28 
The county reported 117 new positive COVID-19 cases for a total of 7,100 cases since the outbreak began locally in mid-February. Five new deaths were also reported -- all people who had underlying medical conditions.

County health officials announced that on June 2 passive activities would be allowed on beaches, including sitting and sunbathing on the sand, as long as guidelines were followed, and once each individual municipality approved it.

Relaxing with towels and chairs on beaches would only be allowed with one's own household unit. People would be required to wear face coverings, stay with their own households, and maintain social distance from other beachgoers.

Activities like football, volleyball, or other group sports would still not be allowed. Parking lots and piers would remain closed. The county said it would give time to coastal cities to prepare for a full reopening of the beaches.

The San Diego Blood Bank joined county health officials on May 28 to urge residents to donate convalescent plasma, a potential COVID-19 treatment that, while not yet approved by the FDA, has been given the go-ahead for the emergency use of plasma. The plasma in people who have already had COVID-19 can contain antibodies that may be able to treat others with the disease, according to the blood bank. To read more about the treatment, and one San Diego patient's experience with the transfusion, click here.

May 27
There were six new deaths reported in San Diego County on May 27 for a total of 255 since the outbreak began. There were 101 new positive COVID-19 cases reported for a total of 6,983.

Rady Children's Hospital announced a new program that would allow them to test up to 2,000 children, their families, and health care workers each day within several weeks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a roundtable discussion with fitness leaders on Wednesday that guidelines for how to reopen gyms make come within a week.

May 26
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced some counties, including San Diego, would be allowed to move forward with the first part of the state's Stage 3 reopening plan, which allows barbershops and hair salons to operate again.

As with other businesses that were allowed to reopen in May, the county said barbershops and salons should download and complete the Safe Reopening Plan, print and post it outside their business, and share it with staff. The businesses must ensure that both customers and employees can wear a face covering while the service is being conducted. Temperature checks for employees will be required.

Salons would not be allowed to perform any services on the face, including eyebrows or beards. Nail salons were also not allowed to reopen.

The county also amended its public health order to allow for one-on-one sports instruction. Coaches can train athletes in sports like golf, baseball and others if physical distancing can be insured. Group sports activities were still prohibited.

San Diego County saw 85 new coronavirus cases reported on Tuesday with no new deaths reported for the third day in a row, though it's possible that the low number was as a result of the long Memorial Day weekend.

Locally, as of May 26, there had been 6,882 cases reported and 249 deaths since the start of the outbreak.

On May 26, we learned a San Diego International Airport TSA agent who worked in Terminal 2's checked baggage operations has tested positive for COVID-19. That employee last worked on May 16, did not have contact with the public, according to a spokesperson.

May 25 (Memorial Day 2020)
People packed the shoreline of a Carlsbad city beach on Memorial Day in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions issued by the county of San Diego. Carlsbad police and lifeguards were not issuing citations.

California took a major step on May 25 in its emergence from pandemic shutdown orders, announcing the statewide reopening of in-store retail shopping, subject to approval by county public health departments. Retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons, and barbershops.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also released guidelines for reopening religious institutions with distancing and sanitation measures, including limits on the number of people attending a service. The county will have to approve reopening places of worship.

San Diego County reported 96 new COVID-19 cases from 3,700 tests and no additional deaths.

May 24
The county reported 142 new COVID-19 cases from 4,548 tests and no additional deaths.

Meanwhile, the county awaited word on its stage 3 pilot program proposal that it sent to state leaders a few days prior. Salons, barbershops and gyms would be some industries allowed to reopen with new safety measures if the plan was approved.

Meanwhile, Governor Newsom said he was just days away from announcing a plan to reopen barbershops and salons across the state as well as guidelines for houses of worship and gyms.

May 23
The county reported 125 new COVID-19 cases from 3,795 reported tests and seven additional deaths. Five men and two women from age 51 to 90 died and all had underlying medical conditions, the county said.

The 14-day rolling average percentage of new positive cases continued to decline and stood at 3.4% on this date.

While there were people out for the holiday weekend, the crowds were smaller than usual. NBC 7's Erika Cervantes has more.

May 22
Just a day after restaurant dining rooms were allowed to reopen in San Diego County with safety measures in place, county public health officials shut down PB bar and restaurant El Prez for failing to comply with those reopening rules.

“After seeing what transpired at the El Prez restaurant in Pacific Beach, today, they were served with an order of the public health officer closing them effective immediately. This facility will remain closed until further notice,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

As San Diego County headed into Memorial Day weekend, public health officials reminded residents to practice social distancing, avoid crowded places, and cover their faces when leaving their homes.

"It is not lost on me the irony that a county founded on sacrificing life in order to preserve liberty is now facing a situation where we are asking the public to sacrifice liberty in an attempt to save a life," Fletcher said.

San Diego County reported 119 new positive COVID-19 cases from 4,056 daily tests on May 22, with a 2.9% positive rate.

One new death was reported: a 35-year-old man with underlying health conditions. The total reported deaths for the county tallied 242.

May 21
Restaurants were able to reopen for the first time after Gov. Gavin Newsom approved San Diego County's request to move into an accelerated stage 2.

Restaurants and businesses still had to comply with face covering and social distancing requirements. Businesses would have to fill out the county's Safe Reopening Plan form and post it publicly. Safe Dining posters would also have to be displayed at restaurants.

"We need to successfully implement stage 2, we need to allow our business to open, we need to allow customers the opportunity to get out in the adaptive environment, we need to monitor our public health data, and we need to responsibly move throughout reopening phases," said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

County officials say restaurant patrons would have to practice social distancing and wear masks at all times when they're not seated at a table.

The 7-day average for daily reported tests was up to 4,066 tests. San Diego County reported 175 new positive COVID-19 cases from 4,722 daily tests, with a 4% positive rate. The county also reported 11 new deaths. The age range of those 11 people who died was 51 to 100 years old.

May 20
Gov. Gavin Newsom approved San Diego County's request to move into an accelerated stage 2 reopening, which would allow for restaurants to offer dine-in service and for retail to allow for in-store shopping.

Businesses wanting to reopen would have to first complete a reopening plan here and submit it to the county. It must be provided to all employees and posted on the outside of the business.

Daily reported tests continued to soared above 4,000 on May 20; the county reported 114 new positive COVID-19 cases from 4,802 tests for a positive rate of 2%. The county reported eight additional deaths bringing the total to 230.

May 19
It was a big day for the County Board of Supervisors as they debated and voted on reopening plans and stimulus funds at their board meeting.

The board unanimously voted in favor of supporting the COVID-19 Response Team's recommendation to move San Diego County through stage 2 by sending the plan to the state. It also voted 4-1 in favor of sending its stage 3 pilot program to state leaders. It did not mean things would take effect immediately.

The Board of Supervisors was also set to debate the allocation of the $334 million it received in federal funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

There were 11 new COVID-19 deaths reported in San Diego County, bringing the total to 222. Nine people had underlying medical conditions, one did not and another was still pending.

The county reported 80 new positive cases from 2,609 reported tests for a 3% positive rate. The 14-day rolling average continued to decline and stood at 3.9%.

May 18
After Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would loosen some of California's reopening metrics, San Diego County leaders expressed hope that the region would be able to meet the criteria.

“If we are cleared based on these standards, then we believe in the coming days we could see progress around in-store retail and dine-in restaurants," Supervisor Fletcher said, as he urged businesses to download and complete their reopening plan in anticipation.

There were two more deaths reported and 110 additional positive cases out of 3,408 total tests for a positive rate of about 4%. Since the start of the outbreak, there had been 5,946 cases.

“Moving too fast can lead to a second wave. A second wave can retrigger restrictions,” Fletcher warned.

Two local casinos reopened, at least one to long lines, against the urging of state and local leaders.

Jamul Casino and Viejas Resort and Casino reopened their doors Monday morning, reports NBC 7's Artie Ojeda.

May 17
Daily reported tests continued to soar above 4,000. The county reported 174 new positive COVID-19 cases from 4,363 tests for a positive rate of 4%.

The 14-day rolling average continued to decline, standing at 4.2%. No additional deaths were reported, so the total remained at 209 deaths on this date.

Meanwhile, four San Diego-area casinos prepared to reopen with social distancing and safety restrictions such as face mask requirements for all.

May 16
For the third day in a row, San Diego County continued to make progress on its daily testing goal. A total of 4,505 tests were reported to the county; of that 3%, or 139, were positive new cases.

Two additional deaths were reported but the county discovered a duplicate was discovered in its May 15 reporting, bringing the total to 209 deaths. The two deaths were a woman in her late 60s and another in her early 80s. Both had underlying medical conditions.

San Diego State University held a special virtual commencement celebration with appearances from some famous SDSU alumni.

May 15
San Diego County continued to make progress on its daily testing goal of 5,200. County leaders announced 4,055 tests were conducted the day prior.

The testing resulted in 132 additional cases of COVID-19 for a daily positive rate of 3%. The county also reported eight more people had died due to complications from COVID-19. Those people were between the ages of 65 to 94, and all had underlying health conditions.

In an effort to conduct more testing in the South Bay communities, where a disproportionate amount of positive COVID-19 cases have been reported, the county announced some of its state-run testing capabilities for Southeast San Diego. The walk-up clinic at The Tubman-Chavez Center (415 Euclid Ave.) would be equipped to conduct about 132 appointments a day.

Jewish Family Services also planned to operate the state's Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants Program, the county said. The program would give qualified undocumented adult immigrants affected by COVID-19 anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per household.

Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten also acknowledged that the county has been successful in following the guidelines laid out by the state but urged people to keep practicing good hygiene, continue social distancing, and to wear face coverings.

"These strategies are proven and beneficial," Wooten said. "Knowing them, however, and doing them are two different things. So the culture of adherence is very important in ensuring that these strategies are successful."

May 14
The county reported its highest number of daily tests conducted at 3,998, about 1,200 shy of its goal. By increasing testing, the county said it would have a clearer picture of the spread of COVID-19 among residents. Creating a robust testing program was part of the federal government's criteria for reopening, and the only criterion that San Diego County had yet to meet at this point.

San Diego County reached another unfortunate milestone on May 14: in total, 200 people had died from the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began.

“The unfortunate loss of life today hitting the 200 mark, which is a reminder that, despite all of the actions and steps we've taken, this still is a deadly virus and disease," Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

There were 5,391 total cases in San Diego County, 113 more than one day prior.

The County Board of Supervisors also announced they would look into legal action that could accelerate the county's reopening of businesses despite the state of California's strict guidelines that many local leaders have said is unrealistic. The board will discuss taking legal action at a meeting in the days ahead.

The county also had some happy news for book lovers: six public libraries would reopen for "doorside" service starting May 26, including branches in Imperial Beach, Alpine, Ramona, Encinitas, Vista, and Borrego Springs. Branches in Bonita, Poway, El Cajon, Julian, Solana Beach and San Marcos could reopen on June 1 if the first six were successful.

May 13
There were 117 new positive cases for a total of 5,278 COVID-19 cases in San Diego County since the coronavirus pandemic reached the region on Feb. 14, 2020.

There were five new deaths, all with underlying medical conditions, bringing the total to 194. The county stated they reported one additional death by mistake on May 12.

County health officials talked about underlying health conditions, and how that puts people at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

"Well, over 50% of our population has at least one type of underlying medical condition," said Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch further detailed the most common medical conditions identified in the deaths in San Diego County: 54% had hypertension; 36% had dementia or Alzheimers; 31% had diabetes; 30% had cardiac disease; 20% had chronic kidney disease; 11% had COPD or asthma; 9% were immune-compromised.

"With those conditions, if someone contracts COVID-19 they are at greater risk of dying. And their life is not less valuable than someone who doesn’t have underlying medical conditions," Wooten said.

McDonald explained that the percentages are very similar to what is being seen across the county, where the number one condition among COVID-19 deaths is hypertension.

May 12
After going two days without any reported deaths, San Diego County received a stark reminder of the impact of the new coronavirus on May 15 as local health leaders reported an additional 15 people had died from COVID-19. There had been a total of 190 deaths and 5,161 coronavirus cases in San Diego County.

Following the state of California's lead, San Diego County added a number of businesses that would be allowed to reopen with modifications.

The modified statewide stay at home order allowed for office-setting businesses to reopen, if necessary, but urged offices to continue telecommuting where they could. Outdoor malls and strip malls were allowed to open for pickup and delivery only. Car washes, landscaping, and gardening businesses were also allowed to reopen, as were outdoor museums and botanical gardens.

All businesses were urged to go to the county's website and fill out the "Safe Reopening Plan" update, which needed to be posted at the business entrance under the county public health order.

May 11
There were 139 new positive cases reported for a total of 5,065 total COVID-19 cases since the onset of the pandemic in San Diego County. The county reported 2,638 completed COVID-19 tests and noted numbers on a Sunday are always a bit lower.

Some leaders across the county continued to push for loosened restrictions for businesses such as hair salons and offices looking to reopen in the next part of Gov. Gavin Newsom's phase 2.

Newsom had allowed counties to move faster than the state in opening some business sectors if certain conditions were met, one of which was to have zero deaths linked to the novel coronavirus and no more than one confirmed case per 10,000 residents over a 14-day span -- conditions that leaders across the state consider unrealistic.

In Oceanside, some businesses were following a councilman's rally to open in defiance of the public health order. The mayor issued a statement separating the city's official stance from the councilman's "personal views."

The state estimated about 70% of businesses had reopened, with modifications, San Diego County Supervisor Fletcher said.

Some business owners and city leaders in the North County city are calling to reopen the economy, reports NBC 7's Melissa Adan.

May 10
There were an additional 150 cases reported for a total of 4,926 total positive COVID-19 cases. The county reported 3,443 completed tests. No additional deaths were reported; the total remained at 175.

May 9
There were 114 positive cases reported for a total of 4,776 total positive COVID-19 cases since Feb. 14, 2020. The county reported 3,401 completed tests for a 3% positive rate.

Seven additional deaths were reported, bringing the total deaths to 175. One death previously reported was later determined to be a non-resident and was thus subtracted from the total. Those who died ranged from age 56 to 101 and all had underlying medical conditions.

May 8
There were an additional 233 positive cases reported for a total of 4,662 total positive COVID-19 cases since Feb. 14, 2020. Four additional deaths were reported, bringing the total to 169. The county also reported 3,572 tests for Friday which was a county single-day high.

"This does appear to represent and reflect our continued effort to increase testing," Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

Public health officials updated the Public Health Order to allow for more recreational activities, but only by individuals unless all members are of the same household. All updates would go into effect at midnight on May 8.

Recreational facilities like tennis courts and handball courts would be allowed to reopen under the same guidelines as golf courses -- social distancing must be insured, members must be of the same household and the facility's guidance must be approved by the county first. The rules for golf courses were also amended to allow for golf carts for single riders only.

Also, effective May 8 at midnight: the return of rentals for recreational activities including bicycles, boats, kayaks, and surfboards.

Officials announced campgrounds would also reopen on a limited basis starting in June. Individuals at one campsite should be from the same household and capacity at each campground will be limited to 50 percent. It would be up to the jurisdiction that the campground resides in to decide if they would reopen. For more info visit, the county's website.

NBC 7's Alexis Rivas shares modifications to the county's public health order that allows for more outdoor recreation starting this weekend.

May 7
Seven more deaths were reported for a total of 165. There were 110 more positive cases reported for a total of 4,429.

Gov. Newsom said he would allow some businesses, such as clothing stores, florists, bookstores and sporting goods shops to open their doors for the first time in nearly two months, with some restrictions. The governor said this order would not include other close-contact businesses just yet, such as dine-in restaurants and hair salons.

Health officials said local businesses could open as early as May 8 as long as they posted a safe reopening plan at the entrance of their shops.

"Unfortunately, San Diego County does not and will not in the foreseeable future move faster than the state of California is allowing, so at this point, we’re going to move consistent with the governor’s guidance," Supervisor Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, also on May 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed the identity of the immigrant detainee who died from COVID-19 complications.

May 6
Eight additional deaths were reported for a total of 158 since the outbreak began in mid-February. There were 159 more positive cases reported for a total of 4,319, which was a 7% positive rate.

Health officials reported the first detained immigrant death from complications of COVID-19. The detainee was a 57-year-old man who was hospitalized in late April after being at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, according to Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch. The detainee died on May 6.

May 5
There were an additional 140 positive cases reported for a total of 4,160 total positive COVID-19 cases since Feb. 14, 2020. Six additional deaths were reported, bringing the total to 150. The positive test rate was 6%.

Three state-run testing sites opened with hours-long delays that the county said were anticipated. Despite this, local leaders were optimistic the sites will help get San Diego County to its goal of conducting 5,200 tests per day.

The county voted unanimously to approve a set of guidelines that would serve as a framework for how regional, low-risk businesses would operate as they reopen, once Gov. Gavin Newsom cleared the way. The framework covered five criteria: employee health; safe worksite entry; workplace distancing conditions; employee training and compliance; enhanced cleaning and sanitation.

When it comes to major decisions, county leaders said again and again that the county will follow state guidance. NBC 7's Danny Freeman has more.

May 4
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on May 4 that some retail businesses could be allowed to reopen as early as the end of the week, with modifications. He was expected to announce the details of "phase two" of California's reopening plan in the days ahead.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher called this "incredibly good news" and said San Diego expected "to be able to join the loosened restrictions" when they were announced.

He and Supervisor Greg Cox planned to present a proposal to their colleagues on May 5 that would outline policies businesses should utilize to reopen with public health in mind.

The announcement came as five new deaths were reported, bringing the county's total to 144. There were 93 new positive cases out of 1,293 total tests for a positive rate of 7%. That brought the number of positive cases since the outbreak began in San Diego County to 4,020.

The county had already eased restrictions for parks and beaches. May 4 was the first day all beaches in San Diego County were open to the public for exercise, following weeks of closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

May 3
County officials reported 85 new COVID-19 cases out of 2,227 reported tests -- a 3.7% rate of positive cases. There had now been 3,927 total cases among San Diego County residents. One additional death, an 81-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions, brought the region's total to 139.

May 2
County officials confirmed 131 new COVID-19 cases out of 2,402 tests, bringing the total positive cases to 3,842.

There were five additional deaths reported, for a region total of 138: three men and two women, ranging in age from 54 to 100. Four of the five had underlying medical conditions. The county noted one death reported on May 1 was a non-resident who was removed from the total count.

California Public Health officials planned to open COVID-19 testing locations in San Diego starting May 5. The initial locations would be at Grossmont College, the County's North Inland Live Well Center in Escondido, and the former Sears location at the Chula Vista Mall. Testing would be by appointment only. You could make appointments online or by calling (888) 634-1123.

May 1
San Diego County officials confirmed 147 new COVID-19 cases out of 2,625 tests on May 1, bringing the total to 3,711 cases in the region.

There were also 10 new deaths reported, which brought the county's total to 134.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county had set a target of 5,200 COVID-19 tests (PCR diagnostic) per day based on national and state recommendations. On April 30, the county was reporting an average of 1,912 tests per day over the last 7 days.

Fletcher added that if April was a month of action, then May is a month of adaptation, which meant adapting to a new way of life and changing our ways until a COVID-19 vaccine comes along.

Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said it appeared San Diego had flattened its curve. The question was whether or not COVID-19 cases in the region had peaked, and that answer, as of May 1, was not yet clear.

To read about what happened in April in San Diego County during the coronavirus pandemic, click here. And for a look back at March 2020 in our county, click here.

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.

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

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