LOS ANGELES (AP) — The mayor of the nation’s second-largest city warned that the coronavirus may become so pervasive, families ought to prepare for how they will isolate themselves at home without infecting others in their households.
Anticipating a surge in COVID-19 cases this week that may overwhelm healthcare systems, Mayor Eric Garcetti urged people who test positive for the coronavirus not to rush to hospitals unless they have serious symptoms. Instead, he asked the city’s 4 million residents to think about how they will separate themselves from family members while quarantining at home.
“Don’t just take social distancing seriously, I hope each and every one of us take isolation seriously too,” Garcetti said as he described the strategy as the next phase in the fight against the pandemic.
He acknowledged that physical distancing may be hard for people living in tight quarters and said local officials were working to set up safe quarantine spaces for them.
Californians endured a weekend of stepped-up restrictions aimed at keeping them home as much as possible while hospitals and health officials scrambled Sunday to ready themselves for a week that could see a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.
Testing among the state’s 40 million residents has stepped up significantly after a slow start. Officials have warned the increase will bring with it a rapidly expanding number of cases. A Sunday evening tally by Johns Hopkins University found more than 6,200 cases statewide and at least 130 deaths.
California was stocking up on ventilators and fixing outdated ones in anticipation of a shortage at hospitals in the coming days. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that the federal government sent 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Engineers at Bloom Energy, a fuel cell maker in San Jose, were racing to refurbish the ventilators and send them to hospitals.
In Southern California, people were kept off beaches and hiking trails that normally would have been swamped with visitors during this sunny weekend. A stay-at-home order restricts people to all but essential outside activities such as buying food and including only outdoor exercise such as walking or running near home that doesn’t put them within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of another person. Officials closed California’s 280 state parks to vehicular traffic on Sunday, citing overcrowding.
“This was the first time that we saw across Southern California our iconic beaches and trailheads, the parks that define who we are, the views that greet us at our best and worst moments weren’t there except in our imaginations,” Garcetti acknowledged while thanking residents who heeded orders to stay home.
In Northern California, cloudy, drizzly weather led many to stick to the order but the restrictions could be tested soon with dry, warm weather forecast for the coming week.
San Francisco’s subway and light rail system will be closed beginning Monday, with buses replacing light rail service. Rail ridership dropped by more than 90% when the city virtually came to a standstill.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Senior homes in Burbank and Yucaipa reported three deaths this weekend in potential outbreaks.
Vernon Robinson, a resident of the Alameda Care Center in Burbank, died Thursday in the hospital after his wife, Willa, said he had tested positive for COVID-19. The 81-year-old had Alzheimer’s disease and underlying heart and lung conditions.
“That’s not the way I wanted him to leave here,” Willa Robinson, 71, told The Associated Press. “He deserved more.”
Elizabeth Tyler, who represents both assisted-living facilities, said two residents have died from COVID-19 at the Alameda Care Center. She said five other residents and 10 employees have also contracted the virus.
Tyler said the Burbank nursing home had taken the two residents who died to the hospital for symptoms that were believed to be related to other health issues. She said once the facility learned of the positive tests, families of the other residents were contacted.
In Yucaipa, a city of about 53,000 in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, Tyler said an 89-year-old woman who lived at the Cedar Mountain Post Acute nursing home died from the virus Thursday.
San Bernardino County public health officials said 12 elderly residents at the home have tested positive in the county’s first cluster of COVID-19 outbreak.
The U.S. had over 142,000 infections and 2,400 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher because of testing shortages and mild illnesses that have gone unreported.
The government’s top infectious-disease expert warned Sunday that the coronavirus outbreak could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans as smoldering hotspots in nursing homes and a growing list of stricken cities heightened the sense of dread across the country.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the dire prediction of fatalities on CNN, adding that millions in the U.S. could become infected.
Willa Robinson said she last saw her husband healthy on March 13 — the day before the nursing home prohibited visitors. She brought him his favorite meal of baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and carrots and left with their customary farewell.
“I love you,” she told him. “I love you more,” he replied.
She sat outside his hospital room Monday for two hours and watched through a glass window as he struggled to breathe. “I just prayed and asked God to get him out of his misery,” she said.
He died early Thursday morning. Now she must mourn her husband of 55 years alone in quarantine.
“Nobody can come to me,” she said.
Nguyen reported from Oakland.