Beach gathering Sunday draws scrutiny from health officials Monday

The coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, is isolated from a patient in the U.S.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Hospitalization numbers up, but appear to be flawed


A large beach gathering Sunday, July 26, with most in attendance worshiping shoulder-to-shoulder without masks drew concern from the region’s top public health official Monday, July 27.

Asked for her reaction to the gathering, estimated to have drawn more than 1,000 participants to Cardiff State Beach in the late afternoon and early evening, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said that she had seen images of the peaceful event.

“In the photos that I saw, it really was a massive group of people gathering together without social distancing and without wearing facial coverings, so we will continue to address these egregious violations as we have others that have come to our attention,” Wooten said.

She did not, however, say more about what actions the county might take.

It was clear, though, that the state parks department, which patrols the stretch of sand south of Encinitas and north of Solana Beach, did not spring into action Sunday, July 26, even though the governor’s public health orders clearly forbid gathering without face coverings and 6 feet of separation between household groups.

The event was organized by worship leader Sean Feucht who recently received coverage in faith-focused media for an ongoing tour of “outdoor gospel” events underway in California cities, including Redding, Pasadena, Bakersfield and Fresno. Feucht did not respond to a request for an interview made through his website Monday evening, July 27.

Sgt. Jake Pflepsen, a state park peace officer supervisor and lifeguard assigned to Cardiff, said Monday evening, July 27, that while no permit was issued for the gathering, no tickets were issued. Saying only that state parks main enforcement goal is “public safety,” he deferred further questions about the state’s citation policies to headquarters in Sacramento, which was unavailable to comment Monday evening, July 27.

In general, local law enforcement, be they city police departments or county deputies, have been extremely reluctant to cite everyday citizens for health order violations that, at any other time, would be perfectly legal. Last week, Wooten and other county leaders announced the creation of a special “compliance team” to have code enforcement personnel with individual cities work with the county in just the kinds of situations that unfolded in Cardiff Sunday, July 26.

County Supervisor Greg Cox said during Monday’s COVID briefing that the team is still forming and plans for its creation will be presented to the full board next week.

“Our focus is really going to be on those bad characters that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing and trying to figure out how we can work with them to bring them into compliance or to take further steps,” Cox said. “We’ll figure out what those further steps are and get these plans ready to go.”

At the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be relatively stable in San Diego County.

The health department announced another 523 positive cases Monday, July 27, significantly higher than the total of 283 released Sunday, July 26, but still in the generally 400-to-500-per-day range that has been the new normal for weeks now. The 14-day positive rate for coronavirus testing nudged slightly upward to 5.7 percent, just a tenth of a point higher than was the case one day earlier but still a bit lower than the 6 percent rate that has been the through line for the past few weeks.

No additional COVID-related deaths were announced Monday, July 27, leaving the local total at 533.

Two additional community outbreaks, one at a business and another at a restaurant with a bar, were announced Monday, July 27, and confirmed Sunday, July 26. As has been the case previously, the county continues to release no information on exactly which organizations have had outbreaks.

County charts did, however, show a significant spike in local hospitalizations.

The total for Sunday, July 26, reported by the county was 529 people across the county in hospital beds with confirmed or suspected infections. That would be a new single-day hospital census record, and would certainly indicate an uptick in the burden placed on hospital front lines.

However, hospital executives at some of the region’s largest health systems said they were experiencing just the opposite: overall numbers that were either flat or down a bit over the weekend.

“In fact, yesterday was the first day since March that we did not have any positive COVID tests at Scripps Mercy Chula Vista,” said Chris Van Gorder, chief executive officer of Scripps Health, in an email Monday afternoon, July 27.

Looking over the county’s hospitalization report, Dimitrios Alexiou, president and chief executive of the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said that his organization’s tallies look quite different. Monday, July 27, he said, hospitals reported 365 positive cases with another 90 possible cases filling beds.

A county official said by email early Monday evening, July 27, that the health department is checking with the state to verify that the data presented to the public was correct. However, no conformation was forthcoming as of 8 p.m. Monday, July 27.

— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune