SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Emphasizing the ruthless impact the coronavirus continues to have on California families, Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a single-day record of 149 Covid-19 deaths.
The toll surpasses a previous high of 132 recorded in May and comes one day after the state reported a grim daily record of nearly 11,700 new infections. Newsom lamented the unpredictability of the daily death toll — which was as low as six last Sunday — and cautioned Thursday’s figure could be buoyed by late reporting at the county level.
California’s rolling seven-day average tally now sits at 73 deaths. So far, the state has seen 6,711 Covid-related deaths.
“I think it’s really more responsible for all of us to share the seven-day average,” Newsom told reporters. “California’s numbers…are testament to that point of how deadly and devastating this disease continues to be.”
LA County remains the epicenter of California’s outbreak, but many smaller counties that were largely spared during the pandemic’s early stages are sounding the alarm. Rural locations such as Colusa, Glenn, Kings, Tulare and Yolo counties have landed on the state’s coronavirus watchlist.
“As of today, ‘Yolo County has 0% of staffed ICU beds available,’” tweeted Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento. “This is not a drill.”
Following a busy holiday weekend in which thousands of tourists flocked to the Lake Tahoe region, local officials warned the rate of infections per 100,000 people has spiked above the state’s acceptable target.
“Unfortunately, countywide numbers are trending upward quickly, too, and we may find ourselves being directed by the state to roll back activities throughout the county,” El Dorado County Public Health Officer Dr. Nancy Williams said in a statement.
The 26 counties currently on the list must undergo advanced monitoring and develop strategies with the California Department of Public Health, and if they remain 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.
Newsom said Thursday the state is paying particular focus to the situation in Los Angeles, Tulare, Imperial, and Kings counties where infections and hospitalizations are on the rise.
Health officials in LA County said Angelenos are in a “troubling time” and warned new stay-at-home orders could be implemented if infections and hospitalizations don’t level off soon.
Over 2,000 people in LA County were hospitalized as of Thursday due to the novel coronavirus, up by some 600 to 700 from a month ago.
The region also saw 1,700 new infections and 50 new deaths reported in the last 24 hours. Infections have steadily ticked up in the last two weeks according to Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.
The county’s death toll stands at over 3,600 and more than 124,700 positive cases have been recorded by health officials. In recent weeks, the rate of infections in younger people ages 18 to 40 has seen a dramatic jump.
“Nothing can be off the table in the pandemic. There’s just too much unknown,” said Ferrer of a possible shutdown. “There’s lots of things that could happen that could put us in much worse shape. Including some serious mutations of this virus that would make it more dangerous. I would never be the person to say absolutely, out of the question we could never go back to safer-at-home.”
While 93% of the Angelenos who have died had underlying health conditions, the remaining 7% were healthy — including young people who may have thought they would not encounter the deadly virus, said Ferrer.
“We have to slow the spread. The one thing that cannot happen is we cannot overwhelm our healthcare system,” said Ferrer. “That has devastating consequences. Not just people with Covid-19 but for everyone else who needs care. That’s the point we can’t get to. And we’re not there.”
Back in Sacramento County, Newsom began his wide-ranging press conference from McClellan Air Force Base by highlighting the state’s wildfire prevention efforts.
Flanked by a new Black Hawk helicopter, Newsom said crews were preparing relentlessly for a wildfire season that’s off to a fast start in the Golden State. More than 4,100 fires have already sparked statewide, a significant increase from the average of around 2,500 for this time of the year.
Newsom credited firefighters with keeping the fires relatively under control and said the average size has been 6.6 acres. He added the pandemic has reduced the amount of available inmate fire crews and as a result the state is in the process of boosting the depth of its Conservation Corps.
Evacuations caused by wildfires will look much different across California this year due to the pandemic, as counties are being directed to do things like perform temperature checks, issue boxed meals and attempt to keep evacuees physically distanced when possible.
Newsom continues to face heavy backlash due to the ongoing outbreak of Covid-19 cases within the state’s correctional system, most specifically San Quentin, the 168-year-old prison in Marin County north of San Francisco which also houses the state’s death row.
Newsom reiterated corrections officials are scrambling to “decompress” San Quentin’s population where possible but scoffed at the notion of a quick fix. More than 620 inmates at the prison have tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.
“When people say ‘Release thousands and thousands of people,’ I hope they’re being thoughtful and considerate of not only the victims, but the prospects of people re-offending,” Newsom said.
According to state data, over 5,700 cases have been confirmed in the prison system in addition to the over 1,100 workers who have contracted the virus. As of Thursday, 31 inmates have died after testing positive, including seven in San Quentin.
San Quentin’s outbreak has been attributed to a May transfer of inmates from the California Institution for Men in Chino, a move Newsom has sharply criticized.
“That decision the chain of events that we’re now addressing and dealing with,” he said. “I’m not here to sugarcoat that, I’m not here to scapegoat that, all of us are now accountable to addressing this issue.”
After an initial hiatus that began in March and stretched into May, the pandemic has halted operations at the state capitol in Sacramento again, after two lawmakers tested positive for the virus this week.
Assemblymembers Autumn Burke, D-Marina Del Ray, and Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, announced they have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Lackey’s chief of staff says the assemblyman has been hospitalized since Sunday in Palmdale, located in northern LA County.
In response, the leaders of the state Assembly and Senate on Thursday extended the current summer recess by two weeks to July 27 to prevent the “spread of infection to the fullest extent possible.”