COVID-19 outbreak confirmed at Pacific Beach gym operating illegally
County announces plans to step up compliance efforts and enforcement of the public health order
The county on Wednesday confirmed an outbreak at a popular San Diego gym that had been operating last week in defiance of the county’s public health order, and announced that it would step up efforts to protect workers and improve enforcement and contact tracing.
County officials had ordered the Pacific Beach fitness business, The Gym, to immediately close on Thursday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said Wednesday. The gym continued operating but is now closed.
“This was a perfect storm where we had to require the business to close, and then yesterday they were on our outbreak list,” Wooten said. “Last week, when we were trying to get them to close, we didn’t know they were on the outbreak list.”
The owner of The Gym did not immediately respond to calls and an email Wednesday afternoon requesting comment.
To improve the speed and effectiveness with which the county can trace contacts amid an increase in cases and outbreaks, staff will ask the county Board of Supervisors at its meeting next week to consider hiring more people for its COVID-19 tracing, compliance and enforcement efforts, officials said Wednesday. The county said it is also working to diversify the the backgrounds of those it hires to better match the communities hardest hit.
Officials also announced that the county is updating its public health order, effective Thursday, to require employers to notify all their employees if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Supervisor Greg Cox said Wednesday that the county is working with cities throughout the region and hammering out the details of how to form teams with local law enforcement agencies that would work to ensure compliance with the public health order. Cox said staff expected to present a proposal to the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the county is in the process of setting up a new hotline — separate from 2-1-1 — and an email address that would allow county employees to engage with callers to better assess the severity of the issues being raised and collect more accurate, timely information, said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
Fletcher said the county is doing what enforcement it can, but the increased numbers of cases and outbreaks require more resources. So far, it has issued three orders to close businesses and three cease and desist letters, he said.
“We recognize that we have to do more, we have to step up what we’re doing a little better, and we’re responding accordingly,” Fletcher said.
The new efforts come as the county confronts an increase in COVID-19 cases and community outbreaks, such as outbreaks at businesses and private homes.
On Wednesday, the county reported that during the seven days ending Tuesday, it initiated 11 percent of case investigations within 24 hours, down from 67 percent in the seven days ending July 1.
An additional six outbreaks in community settings such as businesses and private homes were announced Wednesday, bringing the 7-day total active community outbreaks to 24. Three of the five new outbreaks were at restaurants with bars, two were at unspecified businesses and one was in a health care setting.
County officials have had a policy of not disclosing the names of businesses where there was an outbreak of COVID-19, defined as at least three laboratory-confirmed cases among non-household members who were in the same place at the same time.
County officials said on Wednesday that they did not announce the identity of the gym, but confirmed it after NBC7 asked if there had been an outbreak at that specific fitness facility. Officials did not disclose how many cases were associated with the outbreak, the dates of the cases, or whether the cases were among employees or customers or both.
“We can confirm that there is an outbreak at that location, but that is the only information we will be able to share with you,” Wooten said.
A county spokesman told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday that the employee-customer mix in outbreaks varied from business to business, but, generally speaking, most outbreaks have involved both employees and customers.
As for whether other outbreaks had been linked to gyms, nail salons or other businesses that were operating indoors in defiance of the state and county public health orders when the people who got infected were there, Wooten said she did not have that information in front of her.
Wooten said that when the county confirms an outbreak, it may have started three or four weeks earlier with the first case. The county then contacts people with whom that sick person had close contact, and if they identify three confirmed cases among non-household members, they deploy outbreak teams.
“Most of the outbreaks — because we have not been operating outdoors for a very long time, most of these outbreaks started before we made those changes for our various businesses,” she said.
The health department announced another 282 new positive COVID-19 cases Wednesday, much lower than the 498 announced Tuesday, and lower than the generally 400-to-500-per-day range the county has been seeing for weeks. The 14-day positive rate for coronavirus testing was 5.5 percent, lower than the approximately 6 percent rate the county has been reporting for a few weeks.
An additional five COVID-19-related deaths were announced Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths to 552.
Wooten said Wednesday that 57 percent of the adults in San Diego County have pre-existing conditions the Centers for Disease Control has identified as factors that increase the risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.
To date, 95 percent of San Diego County residents who have died from COVID-19 had an underlying medical condition, officials said Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, officials with the city of San Diego announced plans to use $700,000 from the city’s Small Business Relief Fund to help businesses in under-served communities. The City Council is expected to consider the reallocation of the money in early August.
Staff writer Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this report.
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