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A year of COVID-19: A look back at the pandemic’s effects on La Jolla

Coronavirus pandemic illustration
(stock.adobe.com)

Until a year ago, the term “social distancing” wasn’t in the national lexicon and wearing masks was not the norm. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed our behaviors swiftly and often, from staying home to “flattening the curve” to donating meals to hospital workers to searching for vaccination appointments.

We learned to access work, school and entertainment via Zoom and other virtual platforms. Restaurants adapted to takeout models and, along with other businesses, have ping-ponged among various modes of operation as coronavirus cases have swelled and ebbed.

As we mark the anniversary of the first life-altering pandemic restrictions, the La Jolla Light looks back at the past whirlwind year of COVID-19.

March 2020

State of emergency: On March 4, California declares a state of emergency after the state’s first coronavirus-related death is reported and a cruise ship carrying 21 people with symptoms is held off the coast of San Francisco.

First La Jolla patient: On March 10, La Jolla’s first coronavirus patient is identified after a positive test at Scripps Green Hospital.

Schools close: By March 13, all local schools and universities are ordered to close, sending students home for an early or extended spring break, thought to be a few weeks long. Some local schools begin planning for online learning in the interim.

Emergency regulations: On March 16, with 55 coronavirus cases in San Diego County, county officials announce regulations banning gatherings of 50 people or more, immediate closure of all bars and adult entertainment venues that serve alcohol, and closure of in-person restaurant dining. Other guidelines include discouraging non-essential gatherings and the recommendation that everyone 65 or older who has a compromised immune system self-quarantine at home.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom orders all Californians to stay in their homes as much as possible, except for necessities such as gas, medicine, banking, groceries and food takeout and delivery. Businesses that must close include movie theaters and other entertainment venues, gyms, and hair and nail salons.

La Jolla restaurants struggle to adapt: Restaurants experience a severe drop in revenue after coronavirus regulations leave them closed to in-person dining. Many are open for takeout, curbside pickup or home delivery, but several shut down altogether, laying off hundreds of workers across La Jolla and placing countless others on furlough.

Relief package: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer introduces a $4 million economic relief package to support local employers affected by the pandemic. The programs include small-business loans, fee deferrals and a 180-day extension of all business permits.

Beaches and parks close: On March 23, the city closes all beaches, parks and trails, prohibiting gatherings of any size and closing parking spaces and lots at Scripps and Kellogg parks in La Jolla.

Churches go online: Local churches take worship services online in response to government mandates against gathering in person.

Emergency Response Fund: UC San Diego launches a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to provide financial assistance for affected members of the university community. The institution also accepts donations of protective equipment and supplies including medical-grade masks, respirators, gowns, goggles and face shields.

Coronavirus consortium: The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is awarded a $1.73 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium. Structural virologist Erica Ollmann Saphire will lead the consortium to understand which antibodies are most effective against the coronavirus.

April

Scripps Memorial staff is pandemic-prepared: Dr. Shawn Evans, resuscitation director of the Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla emergency department, says hospital staff is undertaking the lengthy “choreography” of putting on personal protective equipment and isolating prospective COVID-19 patients. He says the hospital is seeing fewer patients as residents adhere to stay-at-home orders.

A screenshot from the website lajollalinkmagazine.com.
The website lajollalinkmagazine.com lists businesses still open in the Village of La Jolla during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Courtesy)

Town Council helps local businesses link to customers: The La Jolla Town Council hosts the La Jolla Link on its website, listing local businesses that are still open or have adapted their services during the pandemic.

Local hotels adapt: While some hotels have closed their doors for business, others remain open with services for essential travel, remote working or people looking to escape home stress and recharge. Some hotels donate toilet paper and other supplies normally needed for spring break travelers to food banks and other organizations.

La Jolla schools begin distance learning: The San Diego Unified School District soft-launches distance learning April 6, with graded instruction beginning April 27. Meanwhile, local private schools are a few weeks into distance learning, with some having had a plan in place by the time they closed their doors in March.

Taste and smell symptoms: On April 8, UCSD Health researchers publish the first empirical findings that strongly associate loss of the senses of smell and taste with COVID-19.

Locals help create hospital gear: To keep up with hospital demand for personal protective equipment when usual suppliers are stretched thin, locals like La Jollan Andy Foy design a conversion of snorkel masks to personal respirators. Students from The Bishop’s School, under teacher Jennifer Seymour’s direction, make face shields on 3D printers to donate to health care workers.

Parks reopen: On April 21, Mayor Kevin Faulconer allows neighborhood parks to reopen for limited use, including walking, jogging and bicycling. Active sports and organized activities are still prohibited, and beaches remain closed.

La Jolla immunologist searches for antibody therapies: Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology receives a $100,000 grant to fund research of how antibody therapeutics can treat COVID-19.

UCSD lab looks for coronavirus immunity clues: A team of UCSD scientists works to develop a COVID-19 antibody test. Serum from people with COVID-19 antibodies can be used to treat patients with an active infection, according to UCSD professor of pathology Dr. Robert Fitzgerald.

Flyover: On April 24, pilots in private planes fly over hospitals across San Diego, including those in La Jolla, towing banners with messages of support for health care workers.

Beaches reopen: On April 27, beaches reopen for surfing, swimming and walking, and La Jollans take to the shore after more than a month of the beaches being closed.

Search for treatment: Dr. Sumit Chanda of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla and his team discover 30 potential treatments for the coronavirus by repurposing known drugs. As it typically takes 10 to 17 years to build a drug, Chanda looks for a cocktail of in-use medications that are effective against the virus.

Signature events canceled or moved: In response to the pandemic, several iconic La Jolla events are canceled (La Jolla Concerts by the Sea, Food and Wine Festival), postponed (Concours d’Elegance, Secret Garden Tour) or moved online (Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial annual Memorial Day event, La Jolla Half Marathon).

May

Mask mandate: Starting May 1, San Diego residents are required to wear masks in public when within six feet of someone not in their household.

Registered cases: As of May 4, ZIP code 92037 has 33 registered coronavirus cases.

“Return to learn”: UCSD launches coronavirus testing May 11 in preparation to have on-campus classes for the fall quarter. The initial phase of the voluntary program begins with 5,000 students living on campus, with plans to expand it to 40,000 students and 25,000 faculty and staff members.

COVID-19 antibody tests available to the public: La Jolla company Discovery Health Services, along with sister company Koi Wellbeing, make COVID-19 antibody tests available to businesses and members of the public, using a test developed through Poway-based Diazyme Laboratories Inc. and the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine at UCSD Health.

Restaurants begin onsite dining service: La Jolla restaurants begin onsite dining, setting tables outdoors several feet apart to allow for social distancing. However, Whisknladle restaurant in The Village announces it will not reopen. Retail spaces also are allowed to begin welcoming customers indoors for shopping, and the La Valencia Hotel reopens after a two-month closure.

La Jolla churches welcome worshippers: On May 25, churches are allowed to reopen for in-person services, with mask requirements and reduced capacity. Some resume services, such as Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church, but others, like La Jolla Presbyterian Church, keep their services online for now.

Stephanie Marquez styles a client's hair last year on the patio of The Boulevard salon in La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Hair we go: La Jolla salons are allowed to open their doors to customers May 26 under strict guidelines such as mask wearing, more frequent sanitization and no waiting areas. More restaurants open to in-person dining, using all outdoor spaces available.

June

Beaches reopen: Effective June 2, San Diego beaches are open for sitting and sunbathing as long as beach-goers maintain distance from people not in their household. Group activities such as volleyball are still prohibited.

Registered cases: As of June 8, ZIP code 92037 has 49 registered coronavirus cases.

La Jolla gyms and galleries reopen: Some La Jolla gyms, galleries and museums reopen after months-long closures, with reduced capacities and mask requirements among the safety protocols.

Contact tracing app: UCSD professor Farinaz Koushanfar and her team help design an app for coronavirus contact tracing, which will help track people who have been in contact with an infected patient to help limit potential exposure.

Researchers at UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering designed the MADVent Mark V, a low-cost ventilator.
Researchers at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering designed the MADVent Mark V, a low-cost ventilator.
(Courtesy)

Low-cost ventilators: Scientists at UCSD and San Diego State University develop easy-to-make ventilators for COVID-19 patients at a fraction of the cost of high-end ventilators currently on the market.

Schools plan reopenings: A San Diego County health order June 15 allows area schools to resume in-person classes after the California Department of Public Health issues a 14-page document outlining protocols that must be in place for schools to open. On June 16, the San Diego Unified School District approves a fall reopening plan that calls for families to choose on-campus learning, online learning or a blend of the two, and the La Jolla Cluster Association, which covers the five SDUSD schools in La Jolla, meets June 17 in the first of many planning sessions for implementing reopening procedures.

Meanwhile, local private schools prepare to open their campuses to in-person learning beginning in August while complying with state and local guidelines for public health.

Disinfection drones: Two UCSD professors, Dr. Farshad Raissi and Tara Javidi, add ultraviolet lights to a drone to clean items of the coronavirus. Using UV light to kill the virus in a closed room protects users from harmful UV rays and the virus, they say. They hope to further the project with added funding to determine how long the drones must fly for proper disinfection.

July

Last call: Starting at 12:01 a.m. July 1, due to increasing rates of coronavirus transmission, bars, breweries and wineries must serve food to continue operating. While restaurants will still be allowed to serve drinks with meals, no one will be allowed to stand with drinks in their hands. On July 7, the county announces that businesses not considered essential must cease indoor activities for three weeks, causing them to move their operations outside or shut down. On July 22, an outdoor dining program begins in La Jolla Shores in which Avenida de la Playa is closed between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata to allow restaurants to set up tables on the street.

La Jolla Shores resident Paula McColl painted this scene of The Shores' outdoor dining program along Avenida de la Playa.
La Jolla Shores resident and artist Paula McColl painted this scene of The Shores’ outdoor dining program along Avenida de la Playa.
(Courtesy)

On the list: San Diego County is added to the state “monitoring list” on the Fourth of July weekend after the number of local coronavirus cases per capita exceeds state guidelines for three consecutive days.

Registered cases: As of July 6, ZIP code 92037 has 109 registered coronavirus cases.

UCSD to reopen: UC San Diego says it will attempt to partly resume in-person classes in the fall and will offer free and regular coronavirus testing to its 65,000 students, faculty and staff, a program that could cost up to $2 million a month. The university also indicates that it will enforce Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend that incoming international students spend 14 days in quarantine.

Churches to close: San Diego County health officials go along with a new order for the 30 counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list to shut down indoor operations for many businesses and organizations, from gyms to salons to churches, by July 15. The order comes July 13, six days after local restaurants, bars and family entertainment businesses, including movie theaters, faced similar restrictions designed to drive down rising coronavirus rates.

School plans: On July 13, the San Diego Unified School District announces it will delay the reopening of its campuses in the fall and instead start the school year with online learning, saying “the pandemic is not under control.” On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom lays out his plan to allow schools to reopen for in-person instruction, which mandates that “schools located in counties on the monitoring list must not physically open for in-person instruction until their county has come off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.”

Vaccine trial begins: A 30,000-person COVID-19 vaccine trial begins nationwide, with UC San Diego as a San Diego County site. The trial by Moderna, a biotech company headquartered in Massachusetts, is the first large-scale COVID-19 vaccine trial in the United States.

August

Distance learning: The San Diego Unified School District announces its intention to make distance learning in the fall “as close as possible” to what school was like before COVID-19. That means students are to have a six-hour school day that includes daily videoconferencing with a teacher. Every school day, students will have up to three hours of live online instruction, at least two hours of independent work and at least one hour of working in small groups or going to virtual office hours.

Registered cases: As of Aug. 10, ZIP code 92037 has 233 registered coronavirus cases.

Off the list: San Diego County is removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list Aug. 18, beginning a 14-day waiting period before schools may be allowed to reopen their campuses.

Outdoor options: Permitting opens Aug. 24 for any San Diego church or fitness center that wants to apply to operate outdoors in one of the 340 city parks as part of a plan to help businesses continue to operate within state and county guidelines. The order waives the permitting fees for 60 days, which could be extended by a City Council vote. Several La Jolla churches and gyms opt not to apply for a permit.

Vaccine partnership: La Jolla biopharmaceutical company MediciNova partners with a Japanese university and biopharmaceutical company in an effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Limited openings: Starting Aug. 31, restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters and museums are allowed up to 25 percent indoor occupancy, or 100 people, whichever is less. Gyms may operate with 10 percent occupancy. Retail businesses are restricted to 50 percent occupancy. Nail and hair salons and barbershops may operate indoors with normal capacity. All indoor businesses still must abide by social distancing and face-covering mandates, as well as have a detailed Safe Reopening Plan on file with the county.

September

Registered cases: As of Sept. 6, ZIP code 92037 has 275 registered coronavirus cases.

UCSD enrolls volunteers: UC San Diego announces it will enroll a large, diverse group of area residents in a trial of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by researchers at Oxford University and British pharma giant AstraZeneca. A nationwide trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, beginning Sept. 8, will include 30,000 people in 36 states. The study is put on pause soon after it launches after a person given the vaccine showed symptoms of spinal inflammation.

Committee called: Scripps Health establishes a committee to recommend which COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines to consider offering for Scripps patients, employees and physicians. The team of Scripps medical, pharmaceutical and vaccine experts review and analyze leading vaccine candidates.

October

Private gatherings: The state releases new guidance that allows private outdoor gatherings of up to three households. According to the new guidelines, if a gathering is at someone’s home, guests may go inside to use a bathroom. Gatherings should be kept to two hours or less, and participants need to stay at least six feet from people who aren’t in their household and must wear face coverings, according to the guidance. Anyone who develops COVID-19-like symptoms within 48 hours of attending a gathering should notify everyone who was there, the state says. Those in high-risk groups, such as older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, are urged not to attend gatherings.

Registered cases: As of Oct. 5, ZIP code 92037 has 332 registered coronavirus cases.

School reopening in January? The San Diego Unified School District says Oct. 27 that elementary school students could be allowed to return to schools Jan. 4 for part-time in-person learning and middle and high school students might be able to return Jan. 25.

November

Registered cases: As of Nov. 8, ZIP code 92037 has 413 registered coronavirus cases.

Purple tier: On Nov. 10, San Diego County falls into the most-restrictive purple tier of the state’s coronavirus risk framework after two weeks of case numbers higher than seven per 100,000 residents. Restrictions that must be in effect by Nov. 14 prohibit many businesses from operating indoors and further limit indoor occupancy for many others.

Racial data: A panel of UCSD health sciences experts shares statistics on inequities in how COVID-19 has affected different races. Among the findings, panelists said, Black, Latino and Indigenous individuals have a threefold higher risk of acquiring COVID-19, and one of every 1,000 Black or Indigenous Americans has died of COVID, compared with about one in 1,800 White Americans.

December

Reopening delay: The San Diego Unified School District announces Dec. 1 that it no longer plans to reopen to all students for in-person instruction in January, citing worsening coronavirus numbers.

Closing onsite operations: The state’s newest order imposes expanded coronavirus-related restrictions mandating closures of all onsite restaurant dining, museums, aquariums, playgrounds and salons throughout Southern California. The rules take effect late Dec. 6 in response to the region’s hospital intensive care capacity dropping below 15 percent amid soaring cases of the virus. The restrictions, which also limit indoor retail capacity to 20 percent, must stay in place for at least three weeks, regardless of ICU capacity.

Registered cases: As of Dec. 14, ZIP code 92037 has 711 registered coronavirus cases.

Vaccine rolls out: On Dec. 22, UCSD Health receives its first shipment of 5,500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The shipment follows receipt Dec. 15 of the first 2,925 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Some restaurants open: Following a Dec. 16 ruling by a San Diego County Superior Court judge that coronavirus-related restrictions limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery service were no longer applicable, some La Jolla restaurants open onsite dining while others follow the Dec. 6 closure order. On Dec. 18, a state appeals court issues a stay halting the judge’s ruling and blocking county restaurants from offering onsite dining.

Mayor’s order: On Dec. 30, new San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria signs an executive order directing police to pursue fines from those who defy the regional stay-at-home order.

January 2021

Registered cases: As of Jan. 3, ZIP code 92037 has 956 registered coronavirus cases.

Sisters Mira and Bela Gowda, students at The Bishop's School in La Jolla, run Operation Nourish.
Sisters Mira and Bela Gowda, students at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, run Operation Nourish, which buys meals from struggling restaurants and delivers them to health care workers at local hospitals.
(Courtesy)

Operation Nourish: Two sisters at The Bishop’s School, Bela and Mira Gowda, run a nonprofit aimed at helping two industries beleaguered by the pandemic — health care and food service — by buying meals from restaurants and donating them to people who work in medical facilities.

Local outbreaks reported: La Jolla businesses respond to recent reports of COVID-19 outbreaks. In all cases where an outbreak was discovered, the businesses closed temporarily and/or underwent thorough sanitization processes while isolating those infected or exposed.

Immunity after COVID: A study by the La Jolla Institute for Immunology found that COVID-19 survivors may have antibodies for eight months or more following their recovery.

Vaccine superstation opens near Petco Park: UCSD opens a COVID-19 vaccination superstation Jan. 11, aiming to administer 5,000 shots per day.

San Diego Unified stays closed indefinitely: The San Diego Unified School District announces it will hold off setting a reopening date for all schools. The district says it’s making progress toward testing more staff members and students and hopes to have staff vaccinated by April.

“Immune cop”: Scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute identify the lungs’ sensor that detects SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The discovery may improve treatment for those diagnosed with the illness.

Regional stay-at-home order lifted: On Jan. 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the regional stay-at-home order, meaning restaurants may return to outdoor dining and salons may again offer services. Museums, zoos and aquariums may reopen outdoors, and retail stores may increase indoor capacity to 25 percent.

New coronavirus variant: UCSD infectious-disease modeler Natasha Martin warns the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 26 that a United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus, first seen in the county Dec. 30, is 50 percent to 70 percent more transmissible than initial versions. She warns that increases in social gatherings may lead to an increase in infection rates that could overwhelm the health care system.

Chateau La Jolla resident Butch Hansen receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 27.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Chateau La Jolla vaccinates its community: All 99 residents and staff members at the Chateau La Jolla senior community receive the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 27. The mass vaccination is set up outside, with health workers moving from chair to chair to administer the shots.

Severe COVID-19 may lead to stronger immunity: A study by the La Jolla Institute for Immunology finds that those with severe cases of COVID-19 may have stronger long-term immunity.

Local filmmaker helps spread treatment information: La Jolla filmmaker Adam Raby and film director Jose Valdez team up to create a public information campaign in El Centro in Imperial County to educate people about an antibody treatment for COVID-19.

February

Church services can resume indoors: Late Feb. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court lifts California’s pandemic ban on indoor worship services, ruling that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strict orders appeared to violate the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion. The court leaves in place restrictions on indoor singing and chanting and allows the state to limit attendance to 25 percent of a church’s building capacity in areas, such as San Diego County, considered to have widespread coronavirus risk. Newsom’s office the next day issues revised guidelines for indoor church services.

Registered cases: As of Feb. 7, ZIP code 92037 has 1,298 registered coronavirus cases.

UCSD superstation opens: UC San Diego opens a COVID-19 vaccination superstation at its RIMAC arena Feb. 8 to administer vaccines to university employees and UCSD Health patients, with plans to widen its reach soon. The hope is to eventually immunize 5,000 people a day if the station can obtain enough vaccine.

Budget shortfall: During the Feb. 10 La Jolla Shores Association meeting, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, says the city’s budget has been damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily through the loss of tourism dollars. “The latest projection is about $85 million of a shortfall” for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, he says. LaCava says the shortfall for the next fiscal year is expected to be much greater, likely resulting in budget cuts.

Parents and students from the five La Jolla Cluster schools protest ongoing school closures Feb. 18.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“Open our schools”: A large crowd of La Jolla parents and students gathers outside Bird Rock Elementary School the morning of Feb. 18 to protest ongoing school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The parents, whose children attend the five San Diego Unified School District sites in La Jolla, say they are frustrated that schools remain closed to regular in-person instruction without a firm date or criteria for reopening.

Game on: On Feb. 19, the same day that Gov. Gavin Newsom announces that some high school and youth sports could return to outdoor play under certain restrictions, a judge rules that all sports could resume in San Diego County as long as they “follow the same or similar COVID-19 protocols imposed for competition in professional and/or collegiate sports within the county.”

School reopening target: On Feb. 23, the San Diego Unified School District announces plans to reopen schools for all grade levels the week of April 12, contingent on San Diego County getting out of the purple tier and school staff getting access to full COVID-19 vaccinations. On Feb. 27, vaccinations begin for teachers in the county.

March

1 million doses delivered: As of March 1, more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered to the region and more than 924,000 doses have been administered. Of those vaccinated, more than 272,000, or just over 10 percent of San Diegans 16 and older, are fully immunized. On March 1, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla opens a drive-through vaccination clinic for police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other emergency services workers.

Red tier approaching? State Assemblyman Chris Ward says at the March 2 Bird Rock Community Council meeting that he projects San Diego County is “two weeks away” from the less-restrictive red tier, which allows up to 25 percent indoor dining capacity in addition to outdoor operations. ◆