DEC 21, 2020 | BY AMITA SHARMA

This is part two in a three-part series. Click here to read part one and part three.

Earlier this year, San Diego County’s tribal casinos bet big that they could reopen and still keep COVID-19 at bay.

It’s been a bad wager.

County records of community outbreaks obtained by KPBS show that at least 638 COVID-19 cases from late June through mid-December have been linked to seven area casinos.

Records show the highest numbers tied to the county’s two largest casinos, Viejas Casino & Resort and Sycuan Casino & Resort. At least 166 cases have been linked to Viejas and 155 to Sycuan, according to a KPBS analysis of the records.

While the lion’s share of cases are associated with Viejas and Sycuan, the records show no major casino being spared. They reveal 102 cases connected to Barona Resort & Casino; 91 to Jamul Casino; 57 to Harrah’s Resort Southern California; 45 to Valley View Casino & Hotel; and 22 to Pala Casino Spa & Resort.

To say that a case is linked with a location means that a person was there within two weeks of being diagnosed with COVID-19. It does not mean that the person contracted the virus at the location or infected anyone else there.

Yet, Christian Ramers, an infectious-disease doctor, says the numbers tied to the casinos are evidence of “pretty consistent ongoing transmission.”

“It’s very concerning that there’s ongoing transmission in these settings,” said Ramers, who heads Population Health at Family Health Centers of San Diego.

Ramers added that the transmission only helps to fuel the overall community spread.

“It’s like a chain reaction,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get our hands around this epidemic when there is just this ongoing transmission.”

Health advocates are especially worried about seniors, who are some of the most avid casino patrons and especially vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.

Keep reading on KPBS.org…