La Jolla businesses respond to reports of coronavirus outbreaks linked to them

"Demos Gracias" by Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia is installed at the Galaxy Taco building in La Jolla Shores.
An outbreak of the coronavirus was reported in October at Galaxy Taco in La Jolla Shores, but owner Trey Foshee says it was “not an outbreak.”

A published list of locations in San Diego County where public health officials investigated outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus revealed that 14 of the 1,006 reported outbreaks between March and December were in La Jolla’s 92037 ZIP code.

The Light contacted the sites of the more recent La Jolla cases for their responses and to learn what they have done since to prevent a recurrence.

In community settings such as restaurants, schools and businesses, an outbreak is considered to be at least three coronavirus cases within a 14-day period at the same setting involving people who are from different households or are not close contacts in some other way.

Countywide, 20 percent of the outbreaks were tied to restaurants and bars, according to the list published last month by public media station KPBS. More than 200 of them were at manufacturing companies and other businesses. About 125 were associated with grocery and retail stores, and more than 40 were at medical facilities.

In La Jolla, an outbreak was reported in October at Galaxy Taco at 2259 Avenida de la Playa, but owner and chef Trey Foshee took issue with that.

“It wasn’t an outbreak,” he said. “We had two people in the kitchen that tested positive” from the same family.

“One of my concerns is that … an outbreak is three people from separate households within 14 days,” Foshee said. “That needs to be clearly explained. The restaurant community is up in arms about it.”

Foshee noted that the two infected employees hadn’t worked for a couple of days and started showing symptoms “on their weekend.”

“We closed the restaurant immediately for 14 days” upon learning the test results and had the restaurant sanitized, as is done every night, he said. “Not one other employee tested positive,” Foshee said.

At The Lodge at Torrey Pines at 11480 N. Torrey Pines Road, which was investigated in September, representatives said management has “no knowledge of any guest or employee testing positive for COVID-19 during the September 2020 period identified by the county” and that “going back to March 2020, The Lodge has not identified even one confirmed case of person-to-person or surface-to-person transmission of COVID-19 at The Lodge.”

However, using the county standard of at least three cases within a 14-day period at the same setting involving people from different households, a code enforcement officer with the county’s Safe Reopening Compliance Team performed an inspection. The investigation did not identify any necessary changes to the resort’s COVID-19 safety or sanitation protocols, according to Lodge spokeswoman Rachel Welsh.

“The safety and well-being of our guests and employees have always been our top priority, and that commitment takes on special significance in light of the global outbreak of COVID-19,” Welsh said. “The Lodge requires symptom and temperature screening for all employees at the beginning of each workday and also requires physical distancing and face coverings for employees and guests in compliance with county and state health orders. In the event that any guest or employee of The Lodge experiences COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, The Lodge immediately requires the individual to quarantine consistent with public health orders and conducts contact tracing to determine whether there were any close contacts.”

At Blue Ocean Sushi at 1250 Prospect St., which was investigated in October, management has taken to operating on “minimal staff” to mitigate any potential spread and is providing only takeout service in accord with a recent state order that doesn’t allow onsite dining in the Southern California region.

“We have one person taking orders, one at the sushi bar and few in the kitchen,” said manager Na Cheng. “We do not want to take any risks. If someone has symptoms, they are told not to come to work.”

Around the time of the investigation, Cheng said, one employee tested positive for the virus, and out of caution, all employees were tested. The restaurant closed until all employees received their test results, and only those with negative results could return to work.

The private San Diego French-American School at 6650 Soledad Mountain Road had four students test positive in November. The students were in the same class cohort, which does not mix with other students or teachers.

“The class was closed immediately,” Head of School Mark Rosenblum said. The rest of the class and teachers were sent home.

The school community was notified of the outbreak, Rosenblum said, and contact tracing was done to determine whether siblings of the infected students attend the school. “In this case, there were no siblings in other classes,” he said.

None of the teachers tested positive, Rosenblum said, and the class is now back on campus “after serving out their quarantine. We’re relieved that everyone recovered and is healthy and that protocols were enacted as designed. The risk mitigation efforts were successful in that the outbreak was limited to one class because of ‘bubbling’ and behaving well outside of the classroom.”

SDFAS students are participating in a mandatory testing program through a lab at UC San Diego, which several local schools are now using to test students and staff on a regular basis to detect and prevent outbreaks.

The SDFAS outbreak, however, was caught on a weekend by students’ physicians after their family members began showing symptoms. The school’s testing program does not test symptomatic students.

An outbreak also was reported in November at the nearby Little Steps Christian Preschool at 6551 Soledad Mountain Road. Officials there did not respond to the Light’s requests for comment.

The Marshalls department store at 8657 Villa La Jolla Drive also was investigated in November. According to a statement from Marshalls provided to the Light: “The health and well-being of our associates and customers continues to be a top priority for us. We have numerous health protocols in place to help protect associates and customers. These include requiring masks for all associates and customers, daily enhanced cleaning regimens, occupancy limits, plastic shields at our registers, and social distancing practices, as well as daily associate temperature checks and health self-assessments.”

Senior living and nursing homes accounted for 214 outbreaks in the county, the highest number by location type. At those locations, only one laboratory-confirmed case is required for an outbreak.

Butterfly Gardens, an assisted living facility at 5557 Soledad Mountain Road, had an outbreak reported in November that started with one employee and spread to five residents and two more employees, according to manager Leo Espinosa.

“We continue to maintain our transparency by reporting any new cases to Health & Human Services, specifically with the Community Care Licensing Division and epidemiology branch, who have been very supportive to us,” Espinosa said.

The facility is “back to prevention phase,” he said, and working with CVS Pharmacy for coronavirus vaccine rollout. “We have increased staff education to safely render custodial care for our frail elderly clients with emphasis on proper [personal protective equipment] use and other infection control measures. We are constantly keeping abreast with CCLD and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.”

Espinosa said Butterfly Gardens also continues to conduct testing weekly.

La Jolla Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 2552 Torrey Pines Road, which had two reported outbreaks, did not respond to the Light’s request for comment. ◆