Newsom steps forward as California virus cases hit new record

Gavin newsom

Governor Gavin Newsom. The | Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

OAKLAND – Florida is closing all bars. Texas is doing the same and is imposing a number of new restrictions. Arizona is in a state of crisis as the coronavirus spreads at a new and alarming rate.

But in California, which is breaking single-day records for new Covid-19 cases and noting that hospitalizations are increasing every day, Governor Gavin Newsom is not flipping the dimmer switch in the state. For now.


“As long as we are attacking these issues together and as we begin to see more and more compliance with our mask mandate, then I think we can move more safely and move through this without having to backtrack.” Newsom said this week.

The governor, a high-profile Democrat, has avoided specifying what would cause him to shut down certain economic sectors again. But it seems focused on the state’s hospital capacity and has pointed out that there is plenty of room in bed as a defense to keep sectors open.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott closed bars on Friday and reduced the capacity of restaurants after stopping elective surgeries to preserve space on hospital beds. Also on Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the closure of bars across the state. Both governors are Republicans who had resisted imposing strict restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic.

While California earned national praise for its fast-shutdown orders early in the pandemic, the state’s progress is evaporating every day. The final sign: A week of escalating cases would apparently qualify California for the 14-day quarantine set by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for travelers coming from states where the disease is rapidly spreading.

With Wednesday’s record 7,149 new cases reported, 69 percent increased two days earlier, and another 5,349 new cases reported Thursday, bringing the total case count to 195,571. Meanwhile, the governor reported Thursday that hospitalizations increased 32 percent in the past 14 days, and ICU admissions increased 19 percent in the same time period.

“We have said all this time that it is the price we will pay for the reopening,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco.

The California reopening began in May and was launched earlier this month with a wide range of sector openings including bars, gyms, summer camps, movie theaters, bowling alleys and nail salons. While not all counties have allowed such establishments to open, there are more open than closed sectors in most of the state. Newsom has drawn a line against activities involving hundreds of congregations, from fan-assisted sporting events to conventions.

Newsom has repeatedly cited state readiness as a reason to move on. With only 8 percent of California hospital beds occupied, the governor on Wednesday expressed confidence in “the state’s short-term ability to meet the needs of those most in need.”

It also touted the state supply of ventilators and personal protective equipment, along with the growing force of workers across the state accused of tracking down people who may have been exposed to the virus. As the numbers worsened, Newsom this week set a new tone by appealing to both individual responsibility and a sense of togetherness, all the while imploring Californians to “do the right thing”: wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep distance.

Public health experts say California appears to be shifting from high alarm to “harm reduction,” a health strategy that focuses on reducing rather than eliminating the negative consequences typically associated with alcohol and drug use disorder. In this case, mobility increases at the time of a pandemic.

“Now we are in the land of compensation. Lowering the blockade is an economic and political necessity, but it will result in more cases, “said Andrew Noymer, associate professor of population health and disease prevention at UC Irvine.

As for the metrics to use to trigger closings, Newsom relies heavily on what is called the “positivity rate,” or the percentage of positive cases, which explains the state’s mounting tests. California on Wednesday surpassed the World Health Organization’s recommended positivity threshold of less than 5 percent for reopening, registering positive cases of 5.1 percent in two weeks and 5.6 percent in the past week.

Some counties report alarming positivity rates, with Los Angeles County close to 9 percent, San Bernardino County advancing to 11 percent, and Imperial County, the worst hit in the state, exceeding 20 percent.

But Noymer said he is still wary of being quick on the trigger to block now this summer. He wants to keep that weapon in the arsenal.

“If things get really crazy in the winter with K-12 starting again and maybe galvanizing a resurgent wave of transmission, another block is something we need to keep our sleeve on,” he said.

For Noymer, “things are not really bad right now; they just aren’t where we want them to be.” Blocking again would be difficult, he said, but closing again “is going to be like Chicken Little,” the sky is falling. “People won’t believe it.”

Despite the risks, Noymer acknowledges that the status quo cannot persist. “I don’t think we will be better off saving people from the pandemic, but we crush them in other ways,” he said.

UCSF’s Rutherford is concerned that certain California counties are running out of bed space. Imperial Border County has already begun to exceed the hospital’s capacity, and has sent patients as far north as Stanford University in the Bay Area for care.

The saving grace so far is that death rates across the state have not kept pace with case counts, Rutherford said. He attributed that to the increase in cases among younger people, who have a lower risk of dying. “But wait two to three weeks to see if the deaths continue with the cases,” said Rutherford, who says the best thing people can do is wear a mask and avoid mass gatherings.

The state has released a “watch list” of counties struggling to keep their Covid-19 outbreaks. The list, now 15, includes Santa Clara and Sacramento counties, which had been removed from the list but have reappeared due to increased hospitalizations. Stanislaus County is fairly new to the list, and Contra Costa County has just been added.

“It appears that once businesses began to reopen and activities began to resume, many people in our county began to act as if everything was back to normal,” said Kristin Olsen, Stanislaus County Supervisor. “Instead of going to a restaurant with their family, they have a party in their backyard. That has led to our largest number. ”

Olsen is concerned about running out of hospital beds this summer if the case count continues to rise on the current trend. She said 600 of the 1,200 county hospital beds may be available to Covid-19 patients. Capacity remains, but goes fast.

“Within three to four weeks, we could hit that 600 figure if those rates continue to rise,” Olsen said.

Being on the state watch list means the county has two weeks to try to resolve the issues, Olsen explained. If the county does not, the state may suggest that you consider reinstating some limitations.

While not planning to shut down any sectors, Stanislaus has delayed the reopening of nail salons, as well as massage, tattoo, and piercing services until July 1, though the state allowed them to open a week ago. The county is also working on hospital bed capacity and increasing contact trackers.

Newsom has emphasized that counties control their reopening plans and transferred power to local officials, more closely reflecting the federalism approach taken by President Donald Trump, as well as the local control efforts of state governors. red. That contrasts with the first months of the pandemic when Newsom was calling most of the injections for the nearly 40 million California residents, which initially earned him applause for the first actions, but then received criticism from tired residents, especially in counties that had few Covid. 19 cases.

Decentralization has been developed in different ways.

Lassen County suspended its reopening plans last month after a surge in cases hit the small northern county, but it resumed after a couple of days. Sonoma County leaders kept certain sectors closed last month and met opposition from the county sheriff, who initially promised not to enforce the orders until he retired.

While the San Francisco police will not enforce the mask orders, Mayor London Breed said companies will have to comply with the reopening rules. “If they don’t follow the laws on social distancing and whatnot, we will quote them and we could close them,” Breed said in an interview on the California Playbook on Wednesday.

Some recreational entities have been more cautious with the reopening. This week, Yosemite National Park reversed course after reopening two weeks ago, extending the closure of its camps until July 31 due to concerns about further spread of disease. And Disneyland, which was hoping to reopen the park for its July 17 anniversary date, now decided to wait after the state apparently stepped in, Newsom suggested Thursday.

Business groups are encouraging Newsom to continue to differ from local governments and to continue to merge economic and public health concerns. They also expect the state to intervene to protect them from being responsible under local regulations and to give them a grace period to implement local rules without fear of being sued.

“We strongly believe that our governor and state leaders must continue to refer to counties and their public health officials for the best and most accurate local health and safety guidelines,” said John Kabateck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business . “We have been emphasizing to the governor’s team a strategy that involves a process based on empirical data from top health and safety experts, combined with robust input from economic development and job creation leaders.”

Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a nonpartisan public policy organization representing more than 350 companies in the innovation economy capital, said the effects of a second shutdown on the state and regional economy would be unfathomable and devastating.

The costs of a second closure in Silicon Valley, and across the state, would not only be “crippling in different ways in people’s economic health as well as their health in other ways,” he said, but they would manifest in abuse. spousal, child abuse, stress, calls to suicide hotlines and more.

The real message to California at this point should be “we cannot afford to disappoint our guards,” Guardino said.

Carla Marinucci and Debra Kahn contributed to this report.