(CN) — Returning to daily coronavirus press briefings as the virus surges in much of the Golden State, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday again urged people to avoid gathering with people outside their households and to maintain physical distance from others as the state grapples with a 56% increase in hospital admissions over the last two weeks.
Of the 46,035 patients currently admitted to hospitals in California, 5,355 have Covid-19. Hospitals are operating at 62% capacity statewide with patients who have coronavirus occupying only 7% of total beds.
The number of Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care units has increased by 49% in the last two weeks, with a total 1,676 patients taking some of the 11,480 ICU beds available statewide. Four months into the pandemic, California remains well positioned to absorb another surge, Newsom said.
But in Southern California’s Riverside County, Covid-19 patients filled at least 89.6% of intensive care beds and 68.6% of hospital beds, according to data released Tuesday by county health officials.
At least 18,041 people in Riverside County have Covid-19 — the second highest tally in California, behind Los Angeles County — and 463 people have died after contracting the virus.
State health officials have determined the surge is due in large part to outbreaks at state prisons and skilled nursing facilities, 57 of which have reported coronavirus outbreaks.
Coronavirus transmission at nursing homes have also contributed to the more than 4,720 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported in the last two weeks in neighboring San Bernardino County, which has the state’s fifth highest case tally at 13,152.
At least 46 facilities have reported outbreaks in the county, the nation’s largest by area. The Cedar Mountain Post-Acute Care Facility in Yucaipa has reported 21 deaths from Covid-19.
“We are still in the first wave and have a lot of work to do to mitigate spread,” Newsom said.
California health officials reported 4,056 people tested positive for the virus statewide over the last 24 hours and 73 died after contracting Covid-19.
The state’s positivity rate — the number of positive cases among residents receiving Covid-19 tests, a key indicator of community spread of the virus — stands at 6.9% over the last week, up from 4.4% two weeks ago, Newsom said Thursday.
He said it’s critical for Californians to wear face coverings in public if they have to leave their homes.
“This is not a partisan issue or a political issue, this is a public health issue,” Newsom said regarding pushback from some residents who oppose the face mask mandate. “This is a nonpharmaceutical intervention that is the most impactful outside of staying at home.”
Orange County residents and elected officials have pushed back against state guidelines in recent months, with some participating in protests against closures of beaches and certain businesses.
Health officials confirmed this week they’ve inaccurately reported total Covid-19 test numbers for the past month in Orange County and mischaracterized the county’s death rate from coronavirus as being low when it was actually higher than neighboring counties.
Health officials included 30,000 serology tests with their cumulative testing data, giving the impression that more people were being tested without noting those who were tested multiple times.
Citing both the continued increase in total Covid-19 cases in the state — now at more than 241,000 — and the spike in positive cases among the widening pool of people being tested for the virus, Newsom announced this week mandatory closures for bars in 19 virus hotspots.
California also shut down indoor services at restaurants and wineries and ordered movie theaters, zoos and museums to cease indoor operations in those 19 counties that have seen a surge in novel coronavirus infections.
State health officials launched a public awareness campaign Thursday featuring videos and billboards reminding people to wear face masks.
In a preview of a campaign video presented during the press conference, a patient is seen on a hospital bed, struggling to breathe even with the assistance of what appears to be a ventilator.
Health officials have previously called on celebrities such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Snoop Dogg to help drive messaging about the importance of social distancing and using face coverings.
In a statement, California health director Sonia Angell recommended the 19 counties with surging Covid-19 infection rates cancel their firework shows and for people to refrain from gathering in groups.
“Any public or private events this weekend that include people who do not live together in the same household should not happen,” Angell said in a statement. “This Independence Day, let’s show our patriotism by protecting one another. Let’s stay apart from those who don’t live with us, and when we’re out, protect one another by wearing a face covering, physically distancing, and washing our hands frequently.”
The surge in Covid-19 cases has also forced higher education institutions to alter plans that weeks ago seemed set to coast campuses back into a realm of normalcy.
University of Southern California administrators announced Thursday that, due to rising Covid-19 infection rates in LA County, undergraduates will no longer be returning to campus for the fall semester.
The university will hold most fall classes online, reversing its original plan to allow students to return in a hybrid learning model with some in-person instruction.
“The once-in-a-century Covid-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of our lives — the way we interact, work, and socialize — and with each new permutation of the pandemic, we must find ways to thrive,” USC administrators said in a July 1 letter. “While not what we hoped, we are now recommending all undergraduates take their courses online, and reconsider living on or close to campus this semester.”
Under the new plan, campus housing will be limited to one student per unit and USC will keep at least half of its dorms empty in case of future use as quarantine space in the event of another surge in Covid-19 cases.
Campus cafeterias will still serve food this fall but only in pre-packed containers and students will be able to use the library, gym and other campus amenities by appointment only.
“Whether students are here on campus or pursuing their studies and activities online, we want everyone to feel safe and supported,” the letter said. “We are in this together and together we will make this fall a rich and rewarding experience.”