California governor cautiously upbeat as virus numbers ease
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California appears to be getting a grip on a resurgence of the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, though he warned the state is a long way from reopening some of the businesses it shuttered for a second time last month because of rising infections and hospitalizations.
The average weekly number of positive tests is down by a fifth, to 7,764 from its peak of nearly 9,900 a week ago. The seven-day rate of tests coming back positive statewide had peaked at nearly 8% late last month but has fallen to 6.1%, he said, though the rate remains much higher in some hard-hit counties.
“It’s not where it needs to be, it is still too high, but again it is good to see this number trending down, not trending up,” he said.
Hospitalizations, which had recently ballooned by 50%, have also fallen over the last 14 days, Newsom said in his most upbeat briefing since the resurgence. The number of people in intensive care units because of coronavirus has also declined slightly.
The Democratic governor credited the new restrictions that have locked down most indoor commercial activities in 38 of California’s 58 counties, as well as enforcement actions and increased compliance with his endlessly repeated cautions to maintain social distancing, wear face coverings and use proper hygiene.
The improvements are “encouraging signs, but one week does not make the kind of trend that gives us confidence to try to generate headlines,” Newsom said. “We’ll need to see another few weeks of this kind of data to come in to feel more confident about where we are as a state.”
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer similarly said the county has seen trends stabilize in virus cases and hospitalizations.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re getting back on track to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
Ferrer said the county is reporting an average of roughly 2,500 to 2,700 new cases a day, a number that is “still really high but it does show progress.”
She, too, credited renewed restrictions while warning residents that they must continue precautions to avoid a resurgence.
“Simply put, closing the bars worked,” she said. “We must put off the parties, the gatherings and the trips to crowded places.”
Riverside County officials on Monday warned that a lag in the California Department of Public Health’s electronic disease reporting system was giving a false impression that cases in their county southeast of Los Angeles were slowing down.
And some counties are still bracing for a surge.
San Francisco public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said late last week that hospitalizations there had quadrupled in six weeks, while cases jumped from 5,000 to 6,000 in just 10 days. At that rate, he projected that San Francisco could have more than 750 people in hospitals by mid-October and more than 600 deaths this year, up from 61 dead from the coronavirus so far.
“We are in a major surge of Covid-19. The virus is moving fast, and more people are getting seriously ill,” he said.
Newsom similarly cautioned that the trends are not statewide.
New surges in eight Central Valley counties are continuing, he said, prompting the state to send in medical teams similar to the way it attacked a stubborn outbreak in Imperial County on the California-Mexico border.
The rate of positive tests is 10.7% in Fresno County and 17.7% in Tulare County, he said.
“We don’t want to see it go to where Imperial went,” Newsom said, where test positivity peaked at 30.3% before declining to the current 11.2%.
For many people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal — more than 9,400 have died in California. The vast majority of people recover.
Associated Press Writer Amy Taxin also contributed to this story from Orange County.