Californians Face Threat of New Lockdown as Covid Cases Break Records

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Drowning in another wave of coronavirus infections, California Governor Gavin Newsom telegraphed Monday that new lockdowns are headed to the state’s largest counties due to surging hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.  

California coronavirus threat map as seen on Nov. 30, 2020.

With the current rate of spread greatly surpassing a July peak, Newsom forecast a bleak December and warned officials are expecting hospitalizations to double or triple in wake of Thanksgiving celebrations. The potential added strain could surpass the state’s supply of ICU beds by Christmas at the current rate, Newsom underscored in a jarring pandemic briefing.

“If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic action,” Newsom told reporters. 

The ghastly statistics continue to pile up as the state’s rolling daily average of new cases has spiked to a record 14,600, shattering the previous record of 9,800 set during last summer’s surge. The alarming total — along with statewide hospitalizations spiking 89% over the last two weeks — could trigger new restrictions for the world’s fifth largest economy. 

Newsom called the latest data “sobering” and acknowledged his administration is once again considering stay-at-home orders for the over 50 counties currently in the most restrictive level of the state’s reopening framework. Still in the works, Newsom said the potential orders would be more “surgical” and “less” blunt than previous mandatory lockdowns. 

In March, California became the first state to implement a statewide lockdown requiring residents to stay indoors except for exercise and essential employment.

To underscore the looming threat, California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly highlighted the recent batch of cases — including ones originating from Thanksgiving gatherings — are not yet part of the state’s total of 7,700 hospitalizations.

“The high case number that we’ve seen in the last week and 10 days have not even begun to impact hospitals yet; we know that it takes about two weeks,” Ghaly said.

Hospitals are likely to see hundreds if not thousands of new patients in the coming weeks, as Ghaly reiterated approximately 12% of all new infections result in hospitalizations. He said the state is working urgently with hospitals and county health departments to prepare for the coming weeks and that many facilities have already stopped performing elective surgeries.

Beating the state to the punch, Los Angeles County officials on Monday initiated stay-at-home orders that ban most outdoor gatherings and limits how many customers businesses can serve in person. The orders come after the county recorded over 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a single month.

The hope is the 20-day orders will stave off the need for a more severe lockdown, but that will depend on how Angelenos behave according to LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.

“We are at the most difficult moment in the pandemic,” said Ferrer, who also announced the county’s “alarming milestone” of 400,000 cases since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations also spiked over the Thanksgiving weekend, Ferrer said.

“A continued surge in cases is just not sustainable,” said Ferrer. “The virus is running rampant through almost every part of our county.”

Along with 1.2 million confirmed cases — becoming the second state to cross the 1 million-case mark this month — California has reported over 19,000 Covid-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic. According to a model by researchers at the University of Washington, California could see a wave of deaths this winter that could nearly double the death toll to 37,000 by March 1.

The undesirable honor spurred Newsom to request that residents cancel holiday travel plans and he demoted handfuls of counties to the most restrictive tier — which bars indoor dining and services — and instituted overnight curfews for businesses and gatherings the state deems as non-essential.

Coronavirus infections within the state’s prison system are also trending upward, despite efforts to reduce populations over the summer.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, over 3,400 new inmate cases have been reported over the last two weeks. Since March, over 21,000 inmates have been infected and 85 have died in a series of separate outbreaks that struck prisons like San Quentin.

Meanwhile California’s latest coronavirus surge is sending professional and amateur sports teams scrambling for places to practice and play.

With its home county of Santa Clara banning team sports and implementing mandatory quarantines for traveling residents, the San Francisco 49ers announced Monday it would play the rest of its home games in Arizona. Many team officials, coaches and players say they found out about the new rules while traveling to their most recent game against the Los Angeles Rams.

“The San Francisco 49ers have come to an agreement with the National Football League and Arizona Cardinals which allows the 49ers to host their weeks 13 and 14 home games against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Football Team at State Farm Stadium in Arizona,” the team stated.

To brace for the latest round of economic harm, Newsom said the state will offer $500 million in Covid-19 relief for to small businesses. The plan is centered around allowing businesses owing under $1 million to defer sales tax payments for three months as well as take out up to $25,000 in new state grants. Newsom said the goal was to “float” Main Street until Congress — or the state in the next budget — enacts new aid.

“This is not the end. This is just the beginning of a bridge,” Newsom said.

There was a slice of optimism in the hourlong briefing as Newsom rattled off previous actions taken to ward against hospital overcrowding.

Exceeding the national stockpile by 40 million, Newsom claimed the state has a solid supply of N-95 masks, more ventilators than any other state and a robust collection of retired health care workers on standby. He says he’s confident Californians can band together and extinguish the dire projections as they’ve done twice already this year. “I want folks to know that we intend to bend this proverbial curve and impact the statistics favorably,” Newsom concluded.

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