County leaders 'Cautiously calm' as COVID cases spike

Leaders say high vaccine rates give confidence
Fletcher Testing Site.jpg
Posted at 3:07 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 19:18:14-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - County leaders say they're "cautiously calm" that San Diego can withstand a coming winter surge of COVID-19, despite a recent spike in cases and demand for testing.

"COVID keeps throwing different things at us, and we keep responding," Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said. "And San Diegans know what to do."

Fletcher spent part of Monday morning touring a testing site at the City Heights Recreation Center. It has the capacity for around 1,000 tests per day, making it one of the largest County-run sites in San Diego. He spoke to people waiting in line for hours and says it's normal to see lines like this when case numbers rise.

"People are curious," Fletcher said. "You're never going to have enough testing capacity where everyone who wants a test can get a test in the same day because of the massive spike in demand... If we could do 100,000 tests a day, we would do 100,000 tests a day. We're literally doing everything we possibly can, as is everyone in the healthcare system."

Fletcher says San Diegans can help alleviate some of the long lines by only getting a test when they need to. He said many "frequent flyers" get a test every day, which clogs up the system. Fletcher says the County is working to prioritize people who need a test to return to school or work.

County officials say there are no plans to open new testing sites. Instead, they'll try to increase capacity at existing sites. Right now, they can test 47,000 people each week at 24 County-run sites.

Fletcher pointed out those 47,000 tests only account for about 10% of the total number of tests in the region. Pharmacies, doctors' offices, and drug stores account for the other 90%.

In the meantime, he said the County is well equipped to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The County has seen thousands of new cases every day. But doctors say they won't overwhelm the hospital system because San Diego has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Vaccines make it less likely that someone who contracts COVID-19 will need hospitalization for a severe infection.

There are currently around 600 people with COVID-19 in San Diego hospitals. At this time last year, there were nearly 1,800.

"People tend to have shorter hospital stays now when they're admitted than previously," Dr. Eric McDonald, the County's Chief Medical Officer, said. "That may be one of the reasons we're able to keep the total so low is because the turnover is faster."

Dr. McDonald said people can help keep hospitals running smoothly by not going to the ER for a COVID test. He says you should only go to the ER for a genuine emergency.

Fletcher added that the County has no plans to reimpose any restrictions or shutdowns, even though nearly half of the "triggers" on the County Dashboard sit in the "red" category.

"That trigger system was developed when we did not have a vaccine," he explains. "Today, we have a vaccine. So the situation we face today is fundamentally different."

In addition to increased testing capacity, Fletcher announced the County is working on getting more hotel rooms for people to use if they test positive and need to isolate away from family.

He's also hopeful the State Legislature will reinstate COVID sick leave for 2022. That way, people don't have to choose between their health and their paycheck.

Overall, Fletcher said the main message is for people to stay vigilant.

"We're gonna get through this," he said. "We're gonna be okay. Time and again, we faced these challenges, we've faced these spikes, we've faced different variants. It is fundamentally different today than it was a year ago because we have the vaccine."