Should San Diego County Health Officials Tell the Public Where COVID-19 ‘Hot-Spots’ Are?

by on August 27, 2020 · 4 comments

in Health, San Diego

There’s a debate going on in San Diego County on whether local health officials should be telling the public where COVID-19 hot-spots are. The editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune believes “the county is making a big mistake.”

Its decision to refuse to disclose specifically where outbreaks have occurred — instead offering generic descriptions of, say, a local business or a local restaurant — denies residents basic health-risk information that can shape their decision-making. Los Angeles County’s practice of specific disclosure allows residents to see patterns. On Thursday, for example, three of the county’s four outbreaks were in a single small city (Commerce).

 County officials say that nondisclosure is a best-practices public health tactic that encourages businesses to provide information about outbreaks, which are defined as when there are three or more cases from different households who went to the same location at about the same time.

County health officials answered in their own Op-Ed:

If releasing names and addresses would protect public health, we would wholeheartedly do so. Instead, we believe doing so could hurt both our efforts, and needlessly lead to the identification of individuals who became ill.

There is no meaningful action the public could take with such specific information. It may satisfy curiosity, but risks unfairly stigmatizing both locations and individuals linked to outbreak sites.

For example, with restaurants, the county works with operators to make sure they are following appropriate public health guidelines. When community outbreaks are confirmed, county disease assessment teams are deployed. We see no advantage in publicly shaming a business or organization for doing the right thing and working with us to help rein in this pandemic.

It’s been noted that Los Angeles County releases outbreak locations. To our knowledge, this jurisdiction is alone nationally among major public health agencies in providing this information.

Now, a couple of San Diego news platforms have sued the County over their failure to respond to requests for information.

KPBS is joining the news outlet Voice of San Diego in a public records lawsuit against San Diego County that seeks information relating to COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the county.

During the more than six months since the pandemic took hold in San Diego, county health officials have provided little information regarding outbreaks, only identifying locations with broad terms like “bar/restaurant,” “business” or “social club.” They have repeatedly denied requests from KPBS journalists and others for more detailed information.

Voice of San Diego sued the county at the end of July after officials did not comply with a reporter’s request for epidemiological reports the county sends to the state. The reports include specific locations of outbreaks, when they occurred, how many people were infected and their demographic information.

Pray, dear reader, what do you think?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Collier August 27, 2020 at 4:17 pm

I have been reluctant to comment in this forum since I was chastised for eating at outdoor restaurants at the beginning of the pandemic, but what the heck, here goes. I have not eaten at any outdoor restaurants since the lockdown began. I grocery shop weekly at a small, mask-enforcing grocery store during senior hours. I rarely use medical facilities or go to a pharmacy unless absolutely necessary. The reason is because I don’t know where the outbreaks are happening. I don’t know the zip codes where the outbreaks are happening. I am not spending money and helping our failing economy because I am unable to make a reasonable decision on whether to risk my health or life because I don’t have the information. So, yes, I would like to know the name and location of the outbreaks.


Frank Gormlie August 27, 2020 at 5:13 pm

Judy – you’re always welcome here, please.


Ronald I Bremer August 27, 2020 at 11:10 pm

We all have different problems, allergy problem is one of them. The allergy causes different levels of discomfort for those who are predisposed to it, ranging from contact dermatitis to an allergic reaction similar to poison. There is many other serious disease which are contaminated by air. Use, mask, safety kits for protection.


sealintheSelkirks August 29, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Judy, I’m with you. I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since last February and don’t expect to for…maybe years the way this Pandemic is heading. I have two friends who have lost their restaurants up here, they just couldn’t hold on, and I felt so bad for them because they served great food but…I won’t risk sitting in a closed building with unknown people breathing recirculated air. You can’t eat with a mask on.

Not knowing where the outbreaks are is daunting, and having a government that is supposed to be protecting the public health refusing to list the where is like not putting up a ‘BRIDGE OUT’ sign because it might offend somebody who runs a towing business. It’s a failure to do their jobs and they should be called out for it.

As for shopping, I went to the city a week ago to my publisher and stopped at Costco and Winco Foods also for the first time since Feb, and I saw people with masks dangling from their ears or stuffed into their pockets since they are required to get in. Most kept them on, but there always seems to be a few that…just don’t give a damn. But there were no employees walking these covidiots out when they take them off. Stores have recirculating air systems that are NOT filtered to remove viral particles, and bluntly we take our lives in our hands walking in these places just as we are in restaurants. Virus live on our clothing, floating in the air in micro-droplets up to hours, on flat surfaces which stores are full of. Risky as hell.

What happens when it starts snowing up here in another few months I have no idea, and I don’t expect any snowboarding/ski resorts to be open, either, which will directly affect my non-corporate independent small business. Outdoor activities will cease, and everyone will be stuck inside building about the same time as the regular flu season hits and as the probable impact of the 2nd Wave of this virus roars over us since it seems to be following the same pattern as the 1918/20 Kansas (Spanish) Influenza.

What happens then when the heat gets turned on I shudder to think about…but I agree with Frank, you should keep speaking! The longer a period of time goes by the more we are finding out just how dangerous this brand new disease is but also how to take precautions as best we can. Eating outdoors was much better than in and I don’t understand why you caught such grief about it.



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