SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The rejuvenated coronavirus continued its spread through California as the state reported Wednesday a record single-day increase of nearly 11,700 new cases and added three counties to its budding pandemic watchlist.
Governor Gavin Newsom said the startling number of new infections was inflated by a backlog of tests taken in Los Angeles County from the holiday weekend and noted the seven-day new case average is 8,100. Despite spiking hospitalizations statewide, Newsom remained confident the state’s over 400 hospitals are equipped to handle a continued increase in Covid-19 patients thanks to a healthy stockpile of supplies and variety of backup facilities.
“We’re still in the process of securing more masks but we’ve never been better positioned,” Newsom said.
For much of his hour-long pandemic briefing, Newsom rattled off statistics and efforts the state has made over the last four months to bolster its coronavirus response.
According to Newsom, the state has already delivered 280 million surgical and N-95 masks to hospitals, schools and various industries and has 270 million left. California, which has spent more than a billion dollars scouring the globe for new mask supplies, is in such good position it’s sharing inventory with four other states, Newsom claimed.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the state scrambled to reopen shuttered hospitals and retrofit vacant buildings like a 17,000-seat arena in Sacramento to prepare for an expected wave of sick patients. While most of the temporary hospital facilities secured in March and April have gone unused, Newsom said the alternative sites are “warm” and available if needed.
There are currently 6,100 people hospitalized with the virus — up 44% from two weeks ago — accounting for 8% of the state’s total bed capacity. Meanwhile Covid-19 patients in intensive care units has risen correspondingly, jumping to 1,753 for a two-week increase of 34%.
To relieve overworked doctors and nurses, Newsom announced an agreement with Vice President Mike Pence for the federal government to send 190 medical workers to the Golden State.
Along with hospitalizations, the 14-day average of new tests returning positive has risen to 7.1%, up from 5.1% on June 24.
Southern counties like Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside have been mainstays on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, but northern counties Yolo, San Benito and Napa were added Wednesday, bringing the total to 26.
The counties on the list must undergo advanced monitoring and develop strategies with the California Department of Public Health, and if they remain on the list for three consecutive days they are required to shut down bars and indoor dining. Counties land on the list based on a variety of indicators, chiefly a spike in transmissions and dwindling hospital capacity.
Yolo officials said the county has exceeded a benchmark of 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period and drove home the severity of the situation by warning of a dire shortage of ICU beds.
“As of today, ‘Yolo County has 0% of staffed ICU beds available,’” tweeted Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento. “This is not a drill.”
California’s death toll has now eclipsed the 6,500 mark, sixth most of any state according to Johns Hopkins University. An updated projection by the University of Washington predicts the total could surpass 16,800 by November, but the estimate drops significantly to 11,900 with widespread mask usage among the state’s 40 million residents.
During a virtual briefing in which he took just six questions from reporters, Newsom said the state is working tirelessly to provide California’s over 1,000 school districts with reopening guidance as well as masks and cleaning supplies.
Asked about President Donald Trump’s criticism of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s recently released playbook for school reopenings and — and his threat to withhold funding for schools that don’t physically open — Newsom said he wasn’t “worried about the latest tweets.”
“What we need to address is safely reopening schools and we need to make that a foundational principle. That to me is not negotiable,” said the Democratic governor.
There was no clear answer Wednesday on when students will return back to the classroom in Los Angeles County as infections and hospitalizations from Covid-19 continue to climb.
LA County’s rate of infections has ticked up in recent weeks and the data points to an increase in community spread. So far, 123,000 Angelenos have been infected with the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
County health officials say they have been working with local school districts for weeks to create the necessary guidelines to reopen schools, which have been closed since March. LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said her office is working with school officials to draft protocols that can give more insight into when students can return to their schools as opposed to distance learning in virtual classrooms.
A portion of a conversation Ferrer had with school officials was leaked to The Los Angeles Times, which reported Ferrer said it would be irresponsible for school administrators to not have a backup plan. Ferrer doubled down on that during her briefing Wednesday.
“With the uncertainty everyone sort of needs to have a plan B around the reopening,” she told reporters. “The plan is if there was way too much community transmission there may have to be a much longer period of time for virtual learning.”
Parents and students at K-12 schools could expect a more definitive answer by the end of July if LA County sees its infection rate drop and stabilize, she said.
LA County has conducted over 1.2 million tests with a 9% positive return rate. In the last seven days that rate has ticked up to 10.4%, according to health officials. In early June, the county averaged around 1,300 cases, but Ferrer said the most recent data trends show a daily average of 2,400 cases.
Over 2,000 patients were hospitalized on Wednesday, with 26% in ICUs. Seventeen percent of the ICU patients are on ventilators according to health officials.
On Wednesday, 65 Angelenos died, bringing the county’s death toll to 3,642.
Health officials also said there is a limit to who should be tested and supply cannot meet the demand.
“It is really not feasible or realistic for testing to be done — given with the status of laboratory capacity in the United States — on a scale or scope that could allow us to identify everyone who has the virus every day,” said LA County Health Services director Christina Ghaly. “This is not a sustainable approach.”
But Ghaly added efforts are being made to ramp up testing.