Newsom Urges ‘Dimmer Switch’ on Reopening as Covid Cases Surge

Demonstrators hold signs Saturday in Huntington Beach, Calif., as they protest the lockdown and wearing masks. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom said the number of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week in California surged by 45% compared to the week prior, leading the state to add to a list of counties under intense monitoring by health officials. 

Local public health directors across California have boosted the number of people being tested each day for the novel coronavirus, testing at least 106,000 people on Sunday alone. But while some counties have made progress on testing and hospitalization capacity, many are now seeing a spike in positive cases. Los Angeles has the state’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

LA County health officials said Monday the nation’s most populous county could experience reduced capacity to hospitalize Covid-19 patients in as few as two weeks. The number of Covid cases in the county crested over 100,000 — including 3,000 reported on Monday — and while many have recovered health officials expect to see a jump of hospitalizations of patients infected with the virus in the next few weeks.

Data shows the mortality rate will also spike in the coming weeks.

Those who will need hospital beds in the coming weeks have already been exposed to the virus, according to Department of Health Services director Christina Ghaly, as there is a delay between exposure and when symptoms manifest.

LA County saw a three-fold increase in infections compared to last week. Roughly 1 in 140 Angelenos are infected with Covid-19, according to health officials.

Restaurants and individuals are to blame for the rate of increase. An estimated half million people visited nightlife spots on June 20 when the county further relaxed their health orders, according to data made available to health officials.

There are an estimated 40,000 restaurants in LA County, but LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer said health inspectors had visited 3,000 restaurants as part of their inspections.

The inspectors found 83% of restaurants and 65% of retail stores did not follow the county’s health protocols, including finding workers not wearing face masks and face shields.

Over the weekend, inspectors found 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants were out of compliance with patrons not practicing physical distancing.

“We didn’t expect this steep an increase this quickly,” said Ferrer. “If you’re not part of the solution to slowing the spread, you’re part of the problem.”

Young people are spurring the latest rise in infections, with 18 to 40-year-olds accounting for 42% of new infections. Ferrer said the data gives a clear picture of community spread, adding the county cannot sustain this type of rate of increase. She described the spikes in data as a runaway train.

“I can’t stress enough what’s at stake at this moment,” says Ferrer. “We don’t want to overwhelm our health care system.”

She added: “This is going to be a different summer. And a different July 4th for all of us.”

LA County further pulled back its reopening plans Monday afternoon by announcing the closure of beaches, piers and coastal bike paths for the Independence Day weekend.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn said on Twitter the temporary closures will be in effect July 3 through July 6 and are meant to decrease chances of community transmission of Covid-19.

“We had almost 3,000 reported cases just today,” Hahn tweeted Monday. “We cannot risk having crowds at the beach this holiday weekend.”

In addition to 2,903 new infections, LA County saw 22 new deaths on Monday. The county’s death toll stands at 3,326.

At his virtual press conference Monday, Newsom said 5,307 tested positive for the virus statewide on Sunday, a 45% increase over the previous seven-day period.

“Even as the number of tests go up, the overall positivity rate is going up, too,” Newsom said. “We don’t like the trend line.”

The state’s overall positivity rate climbed to 5.9% over the past week, up from 4.4% two weeks ago. 

Newsom said the state continues to provide technical support, personal protective equipment and other resources to all 58 state counties. 

The amount of people admitted to hospitals for Covid-19 in California has jumped by at least 43% in the last two weeks, Newsom said, though hospitals have so far been able to absorb the surge. 

On Friday, Newsom asked Imperial County officials to reimpose stay-at-home orders after the Southern California border county saw a 23% positivity rate in the past two weeks. Newsom said Monday he expects Imperial County officials to vote to restore movement restrictions in the next two days but will step in to mandate the measure if the outcome of the vote doesn’t protect public health. 

“What you attest to is also your capacity to toggle back,” Newsom said regarding pandemic conditions in Imperial County. 

California health officials are closely monitoring pandemic conditions in more than a dozen counties, including LA County. Newsom said Monday the state will add Orange, Solano, Merced and Glenn counties to its monitor list. 

The 19 counties under watch represent at least 72% of the state’s population, Newsom said. 

He touted the state’s initial response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, noting it was the first in the nation to issue a stay at home order on March 19.

State health officials have allowed certain counties that meet public health benchmarks to move through three different stages of reopening their economies. The fourth and final phase — which allows for large gatherings at festivals, conferences and sporting events — has the highest public safety requirements and requires approval from the state.

Citing an increase in Covid-19 cases over the weekend, Newsom ordered seven California counties to shut down bars beginning on Sunday. Another eight counties received recommendations. 

Newsom said the move was in line with the state’s “dimmer switch” approach to curtailing activities that increase the risk of viral spread. 

“We’ve been clear from the beginning, as you reopen, as you move away from public health makers and making meaningful modifications, you will see people mixing,” Newsom said. “Many people are not being as responsible as we’d like them to be.”

Newsom also announced Monday that months after California arranged for the early release of more than 3,500 people from state prisons to help curb the spread of Covid-19, officials have identified another 3,500 people who could be released early.

Of the more than 113,000 people incarcerated in state prisons, at least 2,600 have tested positive for Covid-19.

A large number of California’s confirmed Covid-19 cases in the state prison system are the result of an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, where at least 1,011 people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday morning. 

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