Virus Curve in California ‘Bending,’ but State Likely Locked Down Until June

Semi trucks drive by a freeway sign along Interstate 5 that urges people to stay at home due to the Covid-19 outbreak on their way toward Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California is at the center of a new wave of optimism regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, as data coming out of the first state to issue a comprehensive stay-at-home order show a flattening curve in infections and hospitalizations. 

“There was a 2.1% increase in the number of ICU patients,” said Governor Gavin Newsom during his daily press briefing. “We’ll take it. It’s not the double-digit increase we saw a week or so ago.”

While new cases, new hospitalizations, new intensive care patients and new deaths all continue to rise in California, the rate of increase slow enough to demonstrate that the quick actions taken by San Francisco Bay Area public health officials and the state have made a material difference. 

“It reinforces the importance of maintaining physical distancing and the stay-at-home policies that have helped California bend the curve,” Newsom said. 

But the sliver of optimism comes with a dose of reality for California’s nearly 40 million residents who are trapped in their homes for the foreseeable future: It will likely be the beginning of June, not May, before there is even a chance of easing the restrictions. 

“As the curve comes down, it means the peak is pushed further out,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of California Health & Human Services. “We anticipate needing additional ventilators down the road into next month and into June.”

While wildly optimistic projections have called for a peak of infections in mid- to late-April, both Newsom and Ghaly threw cold water on that notion Tuesday. For California, it will likely be late-May before the surge recedes and numbers of new infections, hospitalizations and ICU patients begin to decrease. 

“The curve is bending, but it’s also stretching,” Newsom said. 

Perhaps cognizant of the heavy lift he is asking of residents, the governor introduced California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris who talked about the need for residents to still get exercise, practice meditation and eat nutritiously during the days of at-home confinement. 

“Overactivity of the stress response can lead to a variety of symptoms,” Burke Harris said. 

These include lack of sleep, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability and even major problems like strokes. 

Officials are also increasingly concerned about increases in domestic violence calls as the confinement of spouses and families begins to take its toll. 

On Sunday, the United Nations called for urgent action on behalf of governments the world over to address the surge in domestic violence. 

“I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.

Newsom also discussed confinement’s deleterious effects on children, who are unable to communicate the stress associated with being stuck at home amid a pensive environment of worry. 

“This stress translates very differently into our children,” he said. “They manifest stress very differently.”

For all the difficulties that lockdowns create on the home front, not to mention the staggering job losses afflicting the national and global economy, there is a picture of optimism emerging lately from places that only recently produced nothing but grim stories about the pandemic’s toll on human life. 

Italy, for instance, still the country with the highest total coronavirus-related deaths, reported a decline in new cases, hospitalizations, ICU patients and deaths Tuesday. The only relevant Covid-19 numbers that saw an increase was the number of infected people who have recovered. 

There are also signs in Spain — another hard-hit country — that stay-at-home measures put into place nearly a month ago have finally abetted declines in daily new cases and virus-related deaths.

California is so confident it will avoid a surge similar to what Italy, Spain and now New York City have faced that it sent 500 ventilators to other areas of the country where coronavirus outbreaks are more serious. 

The governor said there are currently 15,865 confirmed cases within the state, although more up-to-date counts have the number pegged at above 16,0000, with 387 deaths. 

The University of Washington consistently produces models with emerging data coming out of states. Two weeks ago, the model predicted about 6,100 Californians would succumb to the coronavirus over the life of the epidemic given the level of infections at the time.

Now, after it took the San Francisco Bay Area more than a week to double the number of cases, forecasters have dramatically lowered the prediction and now say the death toll will likely come in around 1,700, with a maximum of 2,400. 

“There is a sense of optimism in California,” said Newsom. 

But the governor also acknowledged the pandemic creates a dynamic situation and that if individuals lose discipline and abandon the measures responsible for creating a sense of optimism in the first place, things could quickly turn for the worse. 

And officials in Los Angeles County noted Tuesday that Covid-19 death rates are slightly higher for black residents while access to lab testing is lower among communities where people are living at or below the poverty line.

Based on the available data, the novel coronavirus has killed more Latinos (28%), followed by white (27%), Asian (19%) and black residents (17%), though health officials noted they only had racial and ethnic data on 93 out of 169 dead. In LA County, black residents make up just 9% of the population while Latinos make up 49% of the county’s 10.4 million people.

County officials say not all the labs testing for the virus provide complete data on negative results or the racial and ethnic background of those who are tested.

“We must collect better data to identify and address the disparities in LA County,” said County Supervisor Hilda Solis during an afternoon update.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced 22 new deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 169. Of those, 37 were residents at skilled nursing facilities and one person worked at a county jail facility.

LA County saw 550 new infections, bringing the total there to 6,910.

Ferrer said based on available data, county officials are aware that testing is happening less in low income communities, whereas more affluent communities have had better access. The agency expects to release a report by next week with more data on the racial and ethnic makeup of those who have been tested.

LA County said testing will be made available to all residents at drive-in locations set to open at multiple sites including East LA Community College. Priority will be given to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions but others could also be tested without a prior medical examination or doctor’s approval.

Meanwhile in Riverside County, Sheriff Chad Bianco assured residents that county officials were not declaring martial law to enforce face coverings as ordered by health officials.

“We will not be setting up any type of police state” in Riverside County said Bianco in a recorded video for the department.

Riverside County, a county of 2.4 million east of Los Angeles, has 946 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 25 dead. So far, 26 officers in the sheriff’s department have tested positive and 2 deputies are dead.

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