Virus Will Keep Bay Area Counties Locked Down Through May

A San Francisco Bay Area freeway is nearly empty at rush hour due to shelter-in-place orders over the novel coronavirus. (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

(CN) — San Francisco Bay Area counties will extend stay-at-home orders through the month of May to dodge a second wave of Covid-19 infections capable of paralyzing the area health care systems. 

The six counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara — joined with the city of Berkeley to announce they would extend the measures initially set to expire on Sunday, May 3. 

“Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely re-open our communities,” the coalition of counties announced in a press release Monday. “Prematurely lifting restrictions could easily lead to a large surge in cases.”

The counties will make a formal announcement about reopening, including a detailed inventory of metrics the area counties must hit before agreeing to relax the shelter-in-place measures that enter their sixth week. 

“This global pandemic of Covid-19 is still in its early stages,” the coalition said. “The virus spreads easily, testing capacity is limited and expanding slowly, and vaccine development is just beginning.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday that Colorado and Nevada will join the Western States Pact to collaborate with California, Oregon and Washington state in deciding when and how to ease the lockdown measures. 

“Covid-19 doesn’t follow state or national boundaries, and it will take every level of government, working together to get the upper hand on this virus,” the pact said in a statement. 

The virus’ lack of respect for borders is why Newsom continues to assert the need for statewide measures. While counties like Siskiyou and San Luis Obispo point to the lack of infections in their communities as the rationale for why they should have the prerogative to open their economies as they see fit, concerns that cooped-up Californians would flee to open areas for relief persist. 

Newsom remonstrated beachgoers in Southern California who gathered on beaches in Orange County over the weekend in a way that appeared to violate physical distance requirements mandated by the state. 

“The only thing that will stop us from opening our economy is more images like we saw this weekend,” Newsom said during his daily coronavirus briefing Monday. 

Newsom said that a careful reopening of the economy is “weeks, not months” away, but if people get too complacent or fail to adhere to guidelines set in place by public health officials, it could result in another surge of cases and more and even stricter stay-at-home orders. 

Photographers from the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register captured thousands of beachgoers crowding together either on the beach or on the sidewalks heading to and from the beach. 

Newsom said the crowding was worse on Saturday before local officials started to take steps to crack down on Sunday. Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and other coastal cities in the county south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego all witnessed a surge in attendance as a spike in temperature sent people out of doors. 

The crowding at those specific beaches was likely compounded by the fact that many beaches in Los Angeles and San Diego counties remain closed, and people likely traveled from afar to a place where outdoor activities were less restricted. 

Newsom said he planned to talk to officials in Orange and Ventura counties about the efficacy of their measures. 

“The virus is as present and prevalent as it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s transmissible as it’s ever been. Nothing has changed in that respect.”

According to Newport Beach spokesperson John Pope, 40,000 people took the beach on Saturday and 10,000 came out on Sunday. Social media feeds were flooded with images of crowded beaches over the weekend, but Pope said in many areas people were able to practice social distancing.

City officials will vote Tuesday on whether to close beaches later next month. Orange County has reported 2,126 confirmed cases due to Covid-19 and 39 deaths.

Orange County Executive Officer Frank Kim told reporters in a telephone press conference Monday that he saw people “practicing social distancing” at beaches over the weekend and thinks the turnout “is an appropriate use of county facilities.”

Officials estimate 15,000 to 20,000 attended county-operated beaches over the weekend.

Kim said people across California should expect to see those types of behaviors as businesses gradually reopen in the next week or month, which will be “important to restoring the economy.”

“That will be the life that our Californians will have to live under,” said Kim.

Kim said Orange County has the capacity to reopen due to its testing and medical facilities. And health officials know “there will be outbreaks in the future,” he said.

Anti-lockdown protests also emerged in various parts of the state, including San Diego, Palm Springs and Bakersfield. But an overwhelming majority of Californians continue to support the measures, with only 11% calling for an end to the stay-at-home order according to a California Health Care Foundation-sponsored poll released on Friday.   

In hard-hit Los Angeles County, low-income communities have been ravaged by Covid-19 deaths according to health officials.

The death rate for black Angelenos is disproportionately higher than any other group when compared to the overall population, at 13.2 per 100,000 people. Latinos in the county have seen a death rate of 9.8 per 100,000, Asians 7.9 and white residents 5.7, announced Dr. Barbara Ferrer with LA County Public Health.

For people living in lower income communities, the death rate from Covid-19 overall was three times higher when compared to other communities, Ferrer said.

“This data is deeply disturbing, and it speaks to the need for immediate action in communities with disproportionately high rates of death,” said Ferrer.

By Monday, 900 new cases of infection were reported and 20,417 in total have tested positive for Covid-19. LA County saw over 1,000 cases reported over the weekend and 29 additional deaths at the start of the week.

The county’s death toll stands at 942 as of Monday.

Since Jan. 11, health care workers in LA County have died from the virus — many from skilled nursing facilities which have seen an explosion of cases and deaths among residents. Public health officials say 1,968 health care workers and first responders were at one time infected with the virus and 8% have been hospitalized.

“The increases in deaths represent our family members, friends and neighbors including front-line essential workers, who have passed away from Covid-19. To all who are grieving, you are in our thoughts and prayers, and we are so sorry for your loss,” said Ferrer.

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