California’s coronavirus curve is now the steepest it has ever been, breaking records the same weekend a curfew went into effect across a majority of the state.
The California Department of Public Health just reported the two highest daily tallies for new COVID-19 cases of the entire health crisis, adding 15,442 Saturday and 14,319 Sunday to bring the all-time total above 1.1 million.
Faced with the fall surge, state and local health leaders have recently taken a flurry of restrictive actions in dire efforts to keep the pandemic from raging further out of control, as it already is throughout much of the U.S.
CDPH and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office early last week announced the demotion of most California counties into the state’s strictest “purple” tier of reopening, meaning restaurants, gyms, places of worship and more must stay closed for indoor activities.
Los Angeles County went a step beyond the state’s rollback, announcing on Sunday that restaurants must cease all dining — indoor or outdoor — for at least the next three weeks. Those establishments may still offer pickup, delivery and drive-through service.
This past weekend also marked the beginning of a one-month curfew order. In purple-tier counties, non-essential businesses and gatherings are now off-limits between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The curfew took effect for the 41 purple counties on Saturday.
None of the measures has been in place long enough yet to evaluate their potential effectiveness in flattening the curve, which state data shows had been stable from about mid-September to mid-October prior to the surge. It usually takes about two weeks, given the incubation period for the virus and testing times, for a change in COVID-19 spread to start showing up in the case data.
Health leaders have also discouraged non-essential travel and continue to urge against in-person Thanksgiving gatherings, which they say pose a very high risk of spreading the contagious respiratory disease among friends and family members. California, Oregon and Washington state issued a joint travel advisory Nov. 13.
These pleas, along with a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay home for the holiday, are reaching the proverbial 11th hour. Many Americans’ minds may already be made up. The Transportation Security Administration reports that it screened more than 3 million total air travelers Friday through Sunday. Prior to the weekend, the TSA hadn’t screened more than 1 million in one day since March 16.
California enters the week of Thanksgiving with both infection and hospitalization numbers soaring at faster rates than during the summer surge. California’s 14-day average for daily new cases has doubled in the past two week, from about 4,750 in a Nov. 8 update to over 9,800 by Sunday.
In just the past week, the state has added close to 83,000 cases — an average of nearly 12,000 a day.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday marked California’s three highest daily infection totals of the entire pandemic.
The state on Sunday also passed 5,000 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time in exactly three months. The total, now up to 5,170, has doubled since Nov. 1 and remains on a sharp incline. Because hospitalizations lag behind new cases by roughly two weeks due to progression time of the virus, and because new cases have only continued to pour in at accelerated pace, the data trends show no sign of the hospital surge slowing down either.
Of the nearly 5,200 in hospitals, at least 1,282 are in intensive care units, up 81% since the start of the month. About 1,950 ICU beds remain available, but they are not spread evenly throughout the state.
Hospitals in rural parts of California are filling fast, and patients in those areas have few nearby alternative sites at which they can be treated.
The hospitalization surge is extraordinarily widespread, with numbers rising rapidly in essentially all well-populated parts of the state. San Francisco, which had been one of California’s rare exceptions to the hospital surge earlier in the month, has more recently seen its virus patient total increase 40%, from 37 last Tuesday to 52 by Sunday, according to CDPH data.
The statewide death rate remains well below the summer peak, but the rapid rise in hospitalizations and especially ICU patients means fatalities are all but certain to tick up faster within the next few weeks.
To date, 18,676 Californians have died of COVID-19, according to CDPH data last updated Sunday.
Governor’s family in quarantine after CHP exposure
Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and their four children are quarantining for two weeks after three of the four children were exposed to a California Highway Patrol officer with COVID-19, the governor’s office announced late Sunday.
All six tested negative Sunday and will continue regular testing, his office said. Newsom will continue to act as governor, working remotely.
One of Newsom’s children had already entered quarantine after potential exposure to a schoolmate.
CHP officers make up the Newsom family’s security detail.
Protests begin as curfew kicks in
The curfew that took effect Saturday and will continue through Dec. 21 has been criticized by some, including local government leaders in rural and suburban parts of Northern California, as overreaching, vague or not rooted in science.
Numerous defiant demonstrations popped up in the greater capital region over the weekend.
House of Oliver, a wine bar and restaurant in Roseville, initially planned to stay open past 10 p.m. for a “Newsom hour” directly protesting the curfew, as advertised in a video posted to Facebook. Owner Matthew Oliver backed down when an agent from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control paid a visit and threatened to take action if it violated curfew.
Roseville is the largest city in Placer County, and Placer’s Board of Supervisors chair, Bonnie Gore, criticized the curfew order last week as a “civil liberties issue” and said residents “should be trusted to conduct themselves with discretion.”
In Fair Oaks, a protest near Newsom’s home continued past curfew. It remained peaceful and small in size.
What might be causing the surge?
Health officials at the state and local levels have consistently said this month that the main driver of coronavirus spread appears to be private household gatherings among friends and extended family members where people let down their guard — the “guard” being social distancing and mask protocols.
As weather gets colder and wetter, these gatherings are increasingly being held indoors, where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is known to be significantly greater.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly explained last week that even though the current surge appears rooted in these types of gatherings, COVID-19 cases have spiked so intensely that it has made all in-person interactions riskier. This is a big part of why Ghaly said the state had to deploy its “emergency brake,” moving 94% of the state by population into the tightest level of business and activity restrictions.
Restaurants, which have been financially ravaged by the pandemic but present an inherently high risk of coronavirus transmission because people must remove their face coverings to eat and drink, appear to be emerging as an area of reinvigorated focus.
In addition to Los Angeles County’s adjusted order barring all restaurant dining, San Francisco earlier this month told restaurants to shut down indoor dining even as the city was in still in the state’s least-restrictive yellow tier. Mayor London Breed made the announcement two weeks ago, as COVID-19 activity was beginning to surge.
The Bee’s Rosalio Ahumada, Tony Bizjak, Sophia Bollag, Dale Kasler, Vincent Moleski, Jason Pohl, Ryan Sabalow and Andrew Sheeler contributed to this story.
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