Covid Infections Hammering California Central Valley

California Gov. Gavin Newsom touts wearing masks to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus in this screenshot of a coronavirus press briefing.

(CN) — California’s Central Valley leads the state with 30% of people who test positive for the novel coronavirus hospitalized, Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday as he underscored efforts taken by state officials to stem the tide of new cases cropping up in hotspots across the state.

In response to a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases across the Central Valley and in Imperial County on the U.S.-Mexico border, California began to implement intervention strategies in early June and reissued stay-at-home orders for troubled counties on June 24.

Since then, the state has allocated $52 million in federal funding to the Central Valley for disease prevention, contact tracing and quarantine efforts. An additional $6.5 million has been donated by philanthropists to ensure vulnerable families, individuals and nonprofits receive the essentials they need, such as food, rent, utilities and other supplies.

“The Central Valley is the obvious area for concern in hospitalizations. This virus is not just going away,” Newsom said during a coronavirus briefing Monday.

The state has been implementing a strategy across eight Central Valley counties that it first tried in Imperial County, which has since seen a marked decrease in Covid-19 cases. The plan is to build local capacity and fill in the resource gaps reported by local communities, provide additional personal protective equipment to meet their needs, focus on essential workplaces and workers and target messaging campaigns to reach vulnerable populations.

Newsom said the work in Imperial County began in early June when positivity rates there peaked at 33.3%. State employees spoke to local leaders to identify the resources they needed and provided them along with accompanying technical support. The strategy appears to be working, as the case numbers out of Imperial County have been steadily improving.

“On June 1st, we committed to a new process, a new protocol, to help support the county in their efforts. We began the process of decompressing their hospital system. Over 650 patients were moved out of Imperial County into surrounding and neighboring communities, and in some instances, we even brought patients here into Northern California,” said Newsom.

“It required a new approach, new strategies and new accountability structures and that’s exactly what took place,” Newsom said, noting the state provided increased medical personnel and reiterated the county’s stay at home order.

Outside the Central Valley, the situation statewide has begun to appear less grim — even with 38 of California’s 58 counties on the state’s monitoring list. The seven-day average of new cases currently stands at 7,764, a decline of over 2,000 cases per day on average over the past week. The 14-day average test positivity rate has declined by 0.5%, and ICU admissions have dropped by 5% over the past two weeks to an average of 1,909 patients. Total hospitalizations across the state have decreased by 10% during the past 14 days.

Health officials in Los Angeles County are “cautiously optimistic” as they reported a slight drop in hospitalization rates Monday.

“Simply put, closing the bars worked,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer during a Covid-19 briefing.

Bars were closed in the last week of June as the spread of the virus ramped up according to health officials. Moving into the month of July, health officials reported an average of 2,300 confirmed cases a day and a peak of 3,000 per day. The end of the month saw 2,500 cases per day according to the data.

Hospitalizations ebbed and flowed, with a low average of 1,900 people being treated at a hospital for Covid-19, a peak average of 2,200 and under 2,000 at the end of the month, said Ferrer.

LA County reported 12 new deaths and 1,634 new confirmed infections, but health officials said that is artificially low due to a lag in reporting from testing labs over the weekend. So far, 193,788 Angelenos have tested positive for the virus and 4,701 have died.

Health officials reported a jump in infections after the Memorial Day weekend as more sectors of the economic were reopened, including bars, indoor dining and other social spots. That gave people a false sense of security, said Ferrer.

“We need to understand we are in fact creating a new normal. We can’t go back to life as we knew it, before March, not right now,” said Ferrer. “A few months ago when we collectively and successfully flattened the curve and we reopened many of our key businesses and community sectors, a lot of us decided that meant we can resume life as we knew it before the pandemic hit. We simply can’t do this again.”

The current health orders prohibit bars from opening. But over the weekend Knock LA, a news arm of the progressive activist group Ground Game LA, posted a video of what appeared to be LA County Sheriff’s personnel attending a private party at a Hollywood bar.

In a tweet, the Sheriff’s Department denied its officers were at the event or had organized it, which a spokesperson for the bar said was for “first responders.”

Ferrer said the county health department and the California Alcoholic Beverage Control are investigating the Sassafras Saloon.

“I would urge all businesses, there is really zero tolerance at having indoor parties at your businesses,” said Ferrer. Anyone who attended the party said Ferrer “potentially created a lot of exposures” to the virus.

Knock LA’s video showed people dancing and drinking indoors at the bar, many not wearing masks. The event flies in the face of everything Newsom has been telling Californians since he first ordered the Golden State shut down in mid-March.

 “We will once again experience that stabilization as long as people continue to practice the physical distancing that they are so familiar with, wear a mask, minimize mixing as much as we can,” Newsom said Monday.

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