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Beachgoers can sit on sand beginning next week

In this file photo from Memorial Day, a surfer in Ocean Beach walks by a sign warning people not to stop or sit on the sand due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. County officials have announced the order against sitting on the beach will be lifted Tuesday.
(Lauren J. Mapp / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Blood donations needed as supply drops to critical level

Beachgoers will be able to sunbathe and sit on the sand with others in their households beginning Tuesday, as county health officials relax another restriction on outdoor activities in San Diego County.

While more restrictions are being lifted, however, the county continues to struggle with the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, officials made a plea for people to donate blood as supplies hit a critically low level.

For the record:

10:37 AM, May. 29, 2020An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The number has been corrected.

Beaches and water activities had been prohibited countywide for several weeks, but the county lifted restrictions on swimming, surfing and kayaking in late April. To keep people from congregating in groups and risk spreading the coronavirus, however, the county continued to prohibit sitting on the sand.

“We know people have been anxious to sit and relax and sunbath on the sand so they can truly enjoy their day on the beach,” Supervisor Greg Cox said in announcing the change during the Thursday county press briefing on the coronavirus.

Other activities, such as beach volleyball, remain off limits, however. The new amendment to a county order only allows passive activities among household units, and people still must wear facial coverings and keep a distance from non-family members. Piers and parking lots will remain closed.

Cox said the decision was made after working on rules for the beaches with officials in coastal cities. Announcing the change on a Thursday will give cities time to prepare for the rule shift that takes effect on Tuesday, Cox said.

Some elected officials in coastal cities had complained that the county’s April 24 announcement to allow water activities took them by surprise and gave them little time to prepare. The county had announced on a Friday afternoon that beaches could re-open the following Monday, and some city councils held emergency meetings that weekend to lift their own restrictions on beach activities to align with the county order.

The state has a four-stage re-opening plan and is in Stage 2, which allows in-restaurant dining and retail shopping.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has allowed many counties to begin transitioning into Stage 3 after meeting certain benchmarks that include trends in cases and hospital capacity.

San Diego is in Stage 2 but is among the counties that are allowed to open barbershops and hair salons, which are in Stage 3. The county has not yet been approved to re-open nail salons, gyms, movie theaters, theme parks and sporting events without live audiences, which also are in Stage 3.

Stage 4 ends the stay-home order and gradually reopens large gathering venues, nightclubs, concert halls and live-audience sports.

Cox also announced that a lack of blood drives in the county has created a critical need for donations. He asked people to call the San Diego Blood Bank or Red Cross to schedule a blood donation, and he said the need is especially high now that people who had put off elective surgeries over the past few months are having their delayed operations.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said there was huge response for blood donations when a call went out just as the pandemic was hitting the county, which create a 10-day supply. That since has dwindled to a two-day supply of blood, he said.

Also at the Thursday press briefing, San Diego Blood Bank CEO David Wellis announced a partnership with the county on a convalescent therapeutic treatment that could help people recover from COVID-19 with antibodies from plasma.

The antibodies found in plasma from people who have recovered from the disease may help patients fighting COVID-19. Cox said each donation of the blood, called convalescent plasma, could help three or four people.

Wellis said that since there are no approved treatments for COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed emergency use of COVID convalescent plasma, more commonly called CCP, to treat the disease. Early anecdotal data has shown positive results, he said.

All people who have tested positive and been symptom-free for at least 28 days can donate, he said.

“The current hospital demand for CCP is great,” he said. “This morning, San Diego Blood Bank has shipped 377 doses of CCP across the Southern California -- and particularly San Diego -- region. But we’re not meeting the demand.”

Explaining the partnership, Wellis said everybody who is confirmed to have COVID-19 is reported to the county, creating a potential CCP donor pool. The county will educate people who recently tested positive about the need for donors, and it will contact people who have already recovered to ask them to consider donating to the Blood Bank.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 also can call the San Diego Blood Bank or go to www.sandiegobloodbank.org/donateplasma.

County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten announced Thursday that 7,100 people countywide have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 117 more than reported Wednesday. She also reported five more deaths related to COVID-19, all occurring between May 14-25 and with underlying medical conditions, bringing the county total to 260.

There are 408 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county, with 156 of those in intensive care.

Wooten also announced two new outbreaks in congregate living facilities such as skilled nursing homes, bringing the total of active outbreaks to 79. In all, there have been 1,550 positive cases in congregate facilities, representing 22 percent of the total cases in the county. Of the 260 COVID-19 related deaths in the county, 127 were from congregate facilities.

She also reported one new community-setting outbreaks among 24 that are active. In all, 328 cases and five deaths were from community-setting outbreaks, she said.

On Thursday, the California Department of Public Health recommended that all skilled nursing facilities update their COVID-19 plan to include widespread testing of all staff and residents.

In a letter to facilities throughout the state, the department wrote that a baseline should be established to determine if there are any cases, including asymptomatic ones that can contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

Per the letter, residents should also be tested before admission or readmission, as well as before transferring to another hospital or health care facility. Once someone has tested negative and is admitted, they should then be quarantined for two weeks and then retested.

Health care facilities throughout the country have been hot spots for outbreaks of COVID-19.

Since last month, the county has been testing in skilled nursing facilities, starting with those with active cases of coronavirus, which has since been ramped up to include facilities without known cases.

Lauren Mapp contributed to this story.


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