Newsom threatens regional stay-at-home order as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record territory
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday warned that California is again on the brink of a wider coronavirus stay-at-home order as public health officials work desperately to shore up a state hospital system that’s contending with record numbers of COVID-19 patients.
Should the recent trends continue, officials warn, there’s a chance that the viciously resurgent pandemic could overwhelm aspects of the state healthcare system.
Of particular concern is the state’s intensive care capacity. Currently, about 75% of the state’s 7,733 ICU beds are occupied — with 1,812 of them filled by coronavirus patients.
Unless things change, the state could exhaust its existing ICU capacity by mid-December, according to projections Newsom presented.
“If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic — arguably drastic — actions,” he said during a briefing.
Those include “the potential for a stay-at-home order” for areas in the strictest purple tier of California’s coronavirus reopening road map, he said. Of the state’s 58 counties, 51 are in the purple tier.
Officials have watched with growing alarm as a recent record-setting flood of new coronavirus cases has started to wash over the state’s hospital system.
There were 7,787 coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide as of Sunday, according to the latest available data. That’s the highest number recorded during the pandemic and an increase of roughly 89% from two weeks ago.
Even more sobering is that the current figures largely don’t include the recent deluge of infections — as COVID-19 hospitalizations reflect cases that were identified two to three weeks earlier, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary.
Everything, Ghaly said Monday, “is on the table in terms of considering how we effectively guide the state through this,” though he said California is “working with our local partners to make sure what we do is both impactful and as time-limited as possible.”
The stakes for hospitals, like with intensive care units, is high. Newsom said about 59% of California’s hospital beds are currently occupied by patients needing care for all sorts of reasons — but that could rise to 78% by Christmas Eve.
Newsom emphasized that the alarming numbers would come to pass if “we just sit back and we are are bystanders at this moment and we don’t subsequently improve upon our existing efforts.”
“We intend to bend this proverbial curve and impact these statistics favorably,” he said.
The specter of additional state-level restrictions comes as some counties are already taking additional steps aimed at tamping down transmission of the coronavirus.
Los Angeles County’s strictest rules in months went into effect Monday, while Santa Clara County has ordered a mandatory 14-day quarantine for virtually anyone coming into the county from more than 150 miles away — with some exceptions, such as for people traveling for medical treatment.
Officials in both counties have warned that unless they can halt the alarming coronavirus surge, which is unprecedented in its scope and scale, hospitals could run out of beds in weeks.
“We have come to a place where our cases and our hospitalizations are so high that we must do something to settle things down,” Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, said Saturday. “We are now at a critical inflection point.”
In L.A. County, officials have rolled out what they refer to as a “targeted safer at home order” — which closes public playgrounds; places new capacity limits on retail stores, outdoor museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums; and prohibits all gatherings among people from different households, except for outdoor religious services and political demonstrations.
Those limitations are on top of other restrictions that went into effect last week, including a controversial renewed ban on outdoor dining.
“We were prepared for an increase,” said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director. “None of us really thought the increase would be so big across such a short period of time.”
Santa Clara County has restricted hotels to essential travel only or to people needing medical isolation or quarantine and further capped capacity at retail establishments.
Authorities also suspended contact sports for professional teams, forcing the San Francisco 49ers to look elsewhere to play their home games scheduled for December.