SD County COVID-19 Cases Rise But What Do the Numbers Mean? Not Much

What does the number of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County really say about the way the new coronavirus is spreading across the community? According to our public health leaders, not much.

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Each day, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) updates the total number of positive COVID-19 cases in the county and, each day since the first was reported 10 days ago, that number climbs exponentially higher.

On Thursday, there were 25 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus -- the county's biggest one day increase since the first case was reported on March 9, 2019 -- bringing the total to 105 confirmed positive cases in all.

But what do the numbers really say about the way COVID-19 is spreading amongst the citizens of San Diego County? According to our public health leaders, not much.

Dr. Nick Yphantides, Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County, explains why we shouldn't be focusing on the county's daily COVID-19 case tally because it is just the "tip of the iceberg."

"It is very important for our community to not have a sense of security that -- because we have 3.3 million people living here -- that 80 cases (as of Wednesday) is not that significant," said Dr. Nick Yphantides, Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County. "The tip of the iceberg is what we are able to capture, but it is for you all to understand that that iceberg is increasing in size under the water."

That means, while 105 cases have been confirmed, the number of people infected with the disease is likely higher, though many are probably following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to self-isolate if they are showing influenza-like symptoms of cough, fever, and shortness of breath, according to HHSA infectious disease specialist Dr. Eric McDonald.

"I want people to get out of the idea that you have to have a test to know what to do," McDonald said. "You need to stay home if you’re sick. Be isolated. Do not interact with others if you have the signs and symptoms -- and you need to do that regardless," McDonald said. "People should take action based on the symptoms, not just the test results."

Because there are likely many more cases than the county's official numbers, Dr. Yphantides said it was essential to follow the regulations outlined in San Diego County's public health order to reduce the virus' spread.

"Do not have a false sense of security in terms of the numbers," Yphantides said. "In some ways, I don't want to say it is meaningless, but it is not that significant."

On Wednesday, Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten elevated the public health order to prohibit gatherings of 10 or more, to close gyms and fitness centers, and to provide new regulations for essential daycares that must remain open. Bars were already shuttered and restaurants were limited to take-out and delivery options only.

The county advised, if you are sick and would not normally see a health care provider, stay home until you are no longer sick. The only people who will be tested by county health officials are: people returning from a country on the World Health Organization's list of countries with restricted travel, those who have had contact with a COVID-19 case, or people with severe respiratory problems.

For the latest information on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting San Diego County, click here.

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