California Sees Deadliest Day So Far During Pandemic

The Golden State’s governor used Thursday’s somber death toll to make the point that the virus “knows no geography” and is killing people both in and outside California’s coastal cities.

California Governor Gavin Newsom. (AP photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday 115 people died overnight from Covid-19 — the state’s deadliest day so far — and cautioned the pandemic fight is far from over.

Though he said he’s encouraged by a continued drop in the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care, Newsom said the death toll is proof the virus remains a threat even as the list of local officials pushing to reopen grows.

“The disease killed more people in the state of California in the last 24 hours than any previous 24 hours,” Newsom said in a press briefing. “We still have more positives in the state every day, so the disease continues to spread and we need to continue to spread the word of vigilance.”

The announcement bumps California’s death toll to 1,469, with over 37,000 cases confirmed. According to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 tracker, California now ranks ninth in total deaths and fourth in positive cases.

While Los Angeles and Santa Clara have been major hotspots, the virus continues to spread inland in places like Riverside, Tulare and Sacramento counties. Located southeast of Los Angeles, Riverside County had more deaths (99) as of Wednesday than San Francisco and Alameda counties (66) combined.

Newsom used Wednesday’s somber death toll to make the point that the virus “knows no geography” and is killing people both in and outside California’s coastal cities.

The Democratic governor also signed an executive order Thursday barring debt collectors from garnishing federal stimulus checks sent to Californians. Newsom said the order is retroactive but won’t apply to those behind on child support or victim compensation.

“We are assured you will be able to claw back any of those contributions from the feds that perhaps have been taken away by those same debt collectors,” Newsom said. 

Relief is also headed to over 1 million Californians who owe on private student loans, as Newsom said 21 of the state’s largest 24 loan servicers have agreed to a 90-day forbearance. Newsom said the deal, brokered with the help of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, means borrowers won’t be charged late fees and that the servicers should be open to restructuring payment plans going forward. 

Newsom also gave an update on California’s jarring unemployment situation, noting the state has received 3.9 million claims since early March and has already distributed $3.9 billion in payments. The state is quickly burning through its unemployment reserves and will likely need to borrow from the federal government to cover future claims, as it did during the Great Recession.

California did get a boost from Congress’ first round of pandemic aid, but Newsom said he hopes the state will fare “better in the next round.”

When asked about the suggestion made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that states struggling financially should pursue bankruptcy rather than receive federal assistance, Newsom called the comments “offensive.” Newsom said it was ludicrous to force local municipalities to consider drastic cuts to emergency responders while fighting a pandemic.

“I hope and expect he will take back his comments,” said the former mayor of San Francisco.

As for the state’s efforts to ramp up testing, Newsom said President Donald Trump is quickly making good on an offer to ship swabs to the Golden State.

“Promise made, promise kept,” Newsom said in a nod to a Trump campaign slogan. “Ninety thousand [swabs] on the way being distributed tomorrow.”

Newsom has taken advantage of his executive authority and a $1 billion emergency fund granted by lawmakers to respond to the pandemic in a variety of ways over the last two months. But in recent weeks, blowback has emerged primarily from religious groups and conservatives who claim Newsom has trampled the Constitution with some of his emergency orders.

A variety of churches that haven’t been able to hold in-person services due to the statewide shelter-in-place order have sued Newsom, but the attempts have been fruitless thus far. On Wednesday, a federal judge handling a lawsuit brought by three Southern California churches said the state has added authority during times of emergency and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for temporary restraining order.

Meanwhile a pair of California Republicans running for Assembly, including a man who emigrated from El Salvador as a minor in 1975, sued late Wednesday to stop Newsom’s plan to create a $75 million relief fund for undocumented workers harmed by the pandemic.

Ricardo Benitez and Jessica Martinez are asking the California Supreme Court to overturn the relief aid on the grounds undocumented people should not be eligible for any sort of unemployment relief, and that the withdrawal is contrary to the lawmakers’ intent for the $1 billion fund.

In Los Angeles, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday the novel coronavirus is the leading cause of death in the county, with fatality figures surpassing the number of residents who die from other leading causes such as the flu and heart disease.

“On average, 44 people are dying each day from Covid-19,” Ferrer said Thursday. “This is significantly higher than the five people who die each day from the flu and 31 people who die from coronary heart disease.”

County health officials confirmed 68 new deaths and 1,081 new cases of Covid-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — raising county totals to 17,508 positive cases and 797 deaths.

Between April 12 and 23, health officials reported 535 deaths from Covid-19, 67% of all health-related deaths countywide.

“It is a stark reminder for all of us to slow the spread of the virus,” Ferrer said. “We have the opportunity, each and every one of us, to save a life.”

At least 99,000 of the county’s 10 million residents have been tested for the virus, with 14% testing positive and 4,053 being hospitalized at some point according to county data.

After Governor Newsom called for the state to test 80,000 residents per day in the coming months, Ferrer said the county plans to do its part by increasing testing capacity from the 10,000 to 12,000 tests it currently administers daily.

Contact tracing — a method of tracking the spread of the virus — must also be ramped up in the county, Ferrer said, adding that between 150 and 200 individuals should be hired to investigate Covid-19 infection since between 10% and 20% of residents who test positive are not responding to calls from health officials.  

With high temperatures forecast in the coming week, Ferrer said the county has plans to open cooling centers for residents that will comply with physical distancing guidelines.

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