California Border County Urged to Shutter as Covid Spikes

Screenshot of California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a coronavirus press briefing.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom asked Imperial County officials to reimpose stay-at-home orders Friday, after the Southern California border county saw a 23% positivity rate in Covid-19 testing in the past two weeks.

California health officials are closely monitoring positivity rates in 15 counties, but Newsom said Friday he advised Imperial County officials to take immediate action to mitigate what has become the state’s worst outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“We’re now working with the county to pull back and reinstitute stay-at-home orders,” Newsom said, adding he’s confident county supervisors will vote to reissue the mandate. “If they’re not able to come to a consensus, I’m committed to intervening. But I’m confident in their capacity to make that determination for themselves.”

Health officials in Imperial County — which shares a border with Mexico — have relied on state support to transfer Covid-19 patients to other counties to reduce strain on area hospitals over the last five weeks. But Newsom says “decompression” trends have now reversed and hospitals are seeing a surge in cases. 

State health officials have supplied the county with 1 million surgical masks, nearly 500,000 N-95 masks and National Guard medical teams to help fight the spread of the virus.

“We’re committed to providing more resources over time,” Newsom said.

Investigators with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are probing whether a surge in Covid-19 cases in Arizona contributed to worsening conditions in neighboring Imperial County, Newsom said, adding he expects a report on the matter later Friday.

In the last 24 hours, 4,890 Californians tested positive for the virus and 79 died, according to figures released Friday by the California Department of Public Health.

The Golden State has surpassed 200,000 positive cases and marked 5,812 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The state tested over 76,969 people for the novel coronavirus Thursday and found a positivity rate of 5.7%, according to CDPH data. Hospitalization rates increased by 140, or 3.3% from Wednesday, and the state also saw a 4.4% increase in Covid-19 patients in ICU.

“As we increase the total number of tests, naturally we’re going to see an increased number of total positive cases,” Newsom said. “But it’s important to look at positivity rates, which give us a sign or indication of community spread.”

When asked if the state would pull back guidelines that allowed many California counties to reopen parts of their economy, Newsom said the state has only paused issuing reopening guidance. 

“Guidelines don’t mean ‘go,’ they mean how to safely reopen,” Newsom said. “We empower local health officials to make their own decisions. California is not a small state and this needs to be bottom-up, not top-down, because each county is unique and has its own conditions.” 

After San Francisco experienced an increase in local cases of Covid-19, Mayor London Breed announced Friday the city will delay reopening businesses that had been set to open their doors next Monday, including hair salons, museums and outdoor bars.

“Yesterday we saw 103 new cases. On June 15, when we first reopened outdoor dining and in-store retail, we had 20 new cases,” Breed said in a statement. “At our current rate, the number could double rapidly. If that continues and we do not intervene, we will be at such a high number that our only option would be to shut down.”

Newsom urged Californians to wear face masks and physically distance from others, especially over the weekend, to stem the spread of Covid-19.

“If you are going to break with tradition, common sense, and you’re going to invite your neighbors, friends, or family members over — against the advice of local health directives — please wear a mask, practice physical distancing,” Newsom said.

California Public Health Officer Sonia Angell said in the press conference she is working to determine whether recent mass protests against police violence have contributed to the state’s surge in Covid-19 cases.

“We don’t have exact numbers, but we are speaking with California counties and we do think it’s a contributor,” Angell said. “We also had increased movement across the state because local economies are opening up so we’re not able to distinguish, at this point, where someone was exposed.”

Newsom delivered his coronavirus briefing at a Tri Tool manufacturing facility, where he touted manufacturers’ ability to switch production to things like masks and face shields to help weather the pandemic-fueled economic downturn. The state launched an online portal Friday that will connect industries with California-based manufacturers of non-medical grade personal protective equipment.

The partnership with the California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA) connects manufacturers with other industries and businesses across the nation seeking face masks, face shields, gowns, gloves and other supplies, Newsom said.

“Manufacturers are the most critical piece to getting protective gear out to the wide range of employment sectors who need it,” CMTA president Lance Hastings said in a statement. “As we reopen California’s economy, and stay open during the push to find a vaccine, we need a system like this to link regional producers, buyers and information so the equipment gets made and delivered quickly.”

Newsom said the state will continue providing manufacturers with free PPE for workers in order to facilitate an easier reopening process.

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