County fair canceled, death toll tops 50 in local COVID-19 outbreak

The San Diego County Fair, seen in a file photo from 2017, will not be held this year. The Fair Board unanimously voted to suspend the event on Tuesday following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statement about large public gatherings being unlikely in the near future.
The San Diego County Fair, seen in a file photo from 2017, will not be held this year. The Fair Board unanimously voted to suspend the event on Tuesday following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statement about large public gatherings being unlikely in the near future.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego County Fair has been called off until 2021 in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed an additional six local lives, bringing to 53 the total number of area residents who have died from the coronavirus.

The Del Mar Fair Board made the unanimous decision to cancel the fair on Tuesday, April 14, following the announcement of additional state prohibitions on mass gatherings.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had said earlier in the day that the prospect for mass gatherings was “negligible at best” until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus and a herd immunity.

“So large-scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers, all together across every conceivable difference, health and otherwise, is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations,” he said.

Fair Board President Richard Valdez said the decision to cancel this year’s fair was in part made out of consideration of the event’s many vendors.

“Our vendors are relying on our decision for determining whether they can go forward,” Valdez said. “There is a tremendous amount of preparation and expense involved.”

The event, which was scheduled for June 5 through July 5, will move to about the same dates next year with the same theme — “Heroes, Unite!” — that was planned for this year, fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said.

Looking ahead, other San Diego traditional summer events that could be put on hold include San Diego Padres baseball games, Comic-Con International, the San Diego Symphony’s Summer Pops series, Tiki Oasis, the Pride Parade, the Over the Line Tournament, the U.S. San Diego Sculpting Challenge and Dimensional Art Exposition as well as various street fairs and concerts.

At a daily briefing held by county officials, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher could not say when there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but he urged people to continue practicing physical distancing, staying inside except for essential trips and wearing facial coverings whenever going outside.

“We want to encourage you to continue on the path that we’re on because it is laying the foundation for us to begin to think about, to contemplate, to prepare the next steps,” he said.

But the reality is nobody knows when those next steps may be taken, he added.

“We will make progress,” he said. “We will rebuild. But it’s really important that we do it the right way.”

Fletcher also gave an update on the number of county residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus, which includes 83 new positive cases for a total of 1,930.

In all, 27,048 county residents have been tested for the virus, including 919 tests that were reported to the county Monday, April 13, he said.

In new data presented Tuesday, April 14, Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county epidemiology and immunization branch, shared a state website that showed how many people are hospitalized on any date in non-federal hospitals throughout the state.

In San Diego County as of Monday, April 13, there were 243 hospitalized patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 107 suspected of having the disease. Among those who were hospitalized, 101 were in intensive care and had tested positive and 24 were in intensive care and were suspected of having COVID-19.

Cumulatively, 450 county residents have been hospitalized, with 164 in intensive care units.

San Diego County had the third-highest number of people hospitalized in the state on Monday, behind Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

Of county residents who have died, McDonald said all but two had an underlying medical condition, and 27 of the 53 fatalities were older than 80. The six latest deaths include three men ages 63, 79 and 85 and three women ages 81, 98 and 100.

Of the 53 fatalities, 22 were white, 16 were Hispanic, two were Asian and one was multiracial, according to data released from the county. Race was not available in 12 cases.

About 55 percent of all patients were between the ages of 30 and 59. About 49 percent were female, and about 50 percent were male. Gender was not known in about 1 percent of cases.

Among the most recent county residents to test positive for the virus are five bus drivers and two trolley maintenance workers employed by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

The agency, which employs nearly 2,750 workers, reported its first case about a week ago.

Of the five drivers, one had been on vacation for the last two weeks and had no contact with riders or other MTS workers, officials said. The other drivers had been working routes 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 25, 215 and, 944.

Also on Tuesday, April 14, San Diego firefighters launched a campaign to give away $57,000 to community organizations that are helping San Diegans during the coronavirus pandemic, according to union leaders.

San Diego City Firefighters International Association of Firefighters Local 145 is giving away $3,000 a day over 19 days. The giving campaign began Friday, April 10, and will continue until April 28.

So far, the firefighters have awarded money to Serving Seniors, Feeding San Diego, Unite Here Local 30, the San Diego County hotel and food service workers union, and Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, which serves southeastern San Diego.

The money being donated comes from the union’s Community Responsibility Fund, which was established nearly 50 years ago.

To learn more, visit the San Diego City Firefighters IAFF Local 145 website.

In another effort to help people affected by the outbreak, the civil rights nonprofit People’s Alliance for Justice and the San Diego Food Bank announced Tuesday, April 14, that they are teaming up to help feed housebound seniors.

“We heard that seniors were in need of food and various resources but they couldn’t get to (food) distributions and local churches that were providing some home essentials,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, president of the People’s Alliance for Justice. “... We felt seniors should not have to go to distribution sites — we should bring the distribution sites to them.”

In addition to food, the organization is also offering to pick up and deliver household essentials such as cleaning supplies and toiletries.

To get assistance, seniors are asked to call the People’s Alliance for Justice at (619) 354-8051.

To learn more about available food distribution sites, visit

During the county briefing on Tuesday, April 14, McDonald reflected on comments he had heard from his grandmother, who had lived through the deadly 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression and World War I.

“She said, ‘We all knew people who were in the Army,’” he said about her memories of World War I. “‘Nobody knew anybody who died in the war, but everybody knew somebody who died in the epidemic.’”

McDonald said people should continue the sacrifices they are making to flatten the curve and keep the virus from spreading.

“It’s so our kids aren’t going to be telling that kind of story to their grandkids at a future date,” he said.

— Gary Warth is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

— Joshua Emerson Smith, Alex Riggins and Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this article.