As New Year’s Eve arrives, San Diego hits an all-time single-day COVID-19 case record

San Diego County reported a total of 5,976 new coronavirus cases Thursday, setting a new single-day record, according to county records.

The previous single-day record was set on Jan. 7, when the county health department reported 4,550 new cases.

Besting the previous record by nearly 1,500 cases on the eve of New Year’s Eve clearly unsettled those in charge of protecting the public health.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, San Diego’s deputy public health officer, said in a statement released Thursday afternoon to tamp down plans for ringing in the new year.

“San Diegans must continue to make decisions to protect themselves and others,” Cameron said. “If you have New Year’s celebrations, limit them to people who live with you, and make sure everyone present uses the strategies we know work.”

With local bars, clubs and eateries open without capacity limits on Dec. 31`, it was obvious that the advice will not be heeded. As a steady stream of Twitter announcements testified, many businesses are promoting New Years bashes, including the Pacific Beach Bar Crawl that will take revelers to six different locations.

Short of a last-minute state edict that shuts things down just as 2022 arrives, parties will happen, and the virus will surely spread quickly. Dr. Davey Smith, chief executive of disease research at UC San Diego, said that because Omicron does cause milder symptoms, the young and healthy will have a low risk of serious illness.

But, because the latest version of the virus spreads so easily, it will be easier than ever for the truly vulnerable, those who or older and anyone with a serious medical condition other than COVID-19, to get caught in the crosshairs.

“Downstream planning really needs to be a big part of this holiday,” Smith said. “Think not just about who is going to the party, but also who you’re going to visit, and who you really should not visit, afterward.”

Having decided to spend the New Year with his parents in a cabin far away from confetti and dance floors, he said he has already heard too many stories from younger, healthier people with serious regrets.

“I have heard too many heartbreaking stories of, ‘I had a runny nose, I went to my grandma’s, I thought I was going to be OK,’” Smith said. “They are OK, but grandma or grandpa ends up getting sick and then they die.”

“It’s heartbreaking because they end up realizing they brought it into the house.”

Though the number of COVID-19 related hospital admissions has not spiked nearly as high as it did during last winter’s holiday surge, largely because a high vaccination rate makes severe symptoms significantly less likely, the numbers are still continuing to creep up, especially among the unvaccinated.

Chris Van Gorder, chief executive officer at Scripps Health, said Thursday that an additional 22 people were hospitalized across the medical provider’s network on Wednesday. Test positivity rates, he said, had reached 31 percent with 145 now in Scripps beds. Thirty-one of those, he added, are age 50 or younger, with 24 of that number in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

As has been the case for months, severe consequences are being felt more often by the unvaccinated.

“We only have 5 percent of our hospitalized patients right now who were fully vaccinated — that is, with the required injections plus booster,” Van Gorder said.

All medical personnel, he said, are bracing for a very tough start to the year. Even though the percent of those who are infected will likely be much smaller than it was for the Delta variant, the sheer number of cases generated by this holiday is likely to push the health system to the brink and keep it there.

“The impact will be felt all through January and possibly into February, because we have not yet started to see the effect of Christmas and New Year events, plus being indoors more due to the colder and wetter weather,” Van Gorder said.

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