CA To Allow Elective Surgeries, Ramp Up Coronavirus Testing

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Nick Garber
·5 min read
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CALIFORNIA — Hospitals in California are now in a position to resume scheduling elective surgeries, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, saying the state's medical facilities had expanded enough to handle any future surges of new coronavirus patients.

Hospitals in California and across the country began suspending elective surgeries and non-emergency procedures in mid-March, anticipating a wave of COVID-19 patients. Starting Wednesday, patients suffering from tumors, heart conditions and a wide range of other issues can "get the kind of care they deserve" after a month's delay, Newsom said.

"If [procedures] are delayed, it becomes ultimately denied," Newsom said at Wednesday afternoon's news conference.

Officials determined they could restart medical procedures by looking at hospitals' increased bed capacity, as well as flattening trend lines in admissions for COVID-19, State Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Wednesday.

The news conference was billed as an update to last week's, in which Newsom laid out six key milestones that the state would need to meet before officials would consider lifting California's stay-home order and allowing certain sectors of the economy to reopen.

Plans for testing and tracing — but no timeline

Again on Wednesday, Newsom said he could not provide a timeline for when major sectors of California's economy could reopen. The gradual process of reopening will look like a dimmer, the governor said — not a light switch.

"There is no light switch, and there is no date," Newsom said.

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But he pledged that the state would ramp up its efforts to meet the most important of its six goals: increasing its capacity to test for COVID-19 and tracing the contacts of people who test positive.

California, whose testing rate still lags behind dozens of other states, hopes to test 25,000 residents per day for COVID-19 by the end of April, Newsom said — up from its current rate of 16,000. Eventually, officials hope to test at least 60,000 people each day.

That effort may be supplemented by a shipment of 100,000 nasal swabs that President Trump said will be sent to California this week, according to Newsom, who said he had spoken with the president earlier Wednesday. Another 250,000 swabs will arrive next week, and even more the following week, Newsom said.

Meanwhile, Newsom said the state will open 251 new testing sites in rural areas and communities of color, which have thus far been under-served by COVID-19 testing.

As for contact tracing, a crucial way for officials to understand how the virus is spreading, California hopes to train and deploy at team of 10,000 tracers, drawing from an existing pool of state workers, Newsom said.

To better understand where the virus has already spread, the state has also ordered 1.5 million coronavirus serology tests from Abbott Laboratories to be used at 130 facilities across California, Newsom said. The test is designed to detect antibodies in people previously infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

More goals remain unmet

The state's other indicators included whether California had the means to protect its most vulnerable residents from contracting COVID-19, how well the state's hospital systems can handle surges in patients, whether the state had developed new treatments for COVID-19 and if schools and businesses can maintain social distancing once they reopen.

Newsom said the decision to resume surgeries was made in consultation with officials in Washington state and Oregon, whose governors have formed an alliance with California and said they will collaborate on a "shared vision" for how to restart public life in the region. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also announced the rescheduling of surgeries on Tuesday.

Once the worst of the crisis has passed, life in California will look much different than before. Restaurants will reopen but may have temperature checks at the door, along with fewer tables inside. Face masks will likely remain common in public settings, Dr. Sonia Angell, California's Public Health Officer and CDPH director, said at the April 14 news conference.

Most notably, the state may need to reintroduce strict containment measures as long as the virus remains present, Newsom has said. The governor described a "toggling back and forth between more-restrictive and less-restrictive measures" when the virus inevitably surges back.

Large public events and mass gatherings will remain banned until a vaccine is developed and the state reaches "herd immunity" — a development that won't come for at least 18 months, experts have said.

California officials are looking at the following indicators as they consider when to lift stay-home restrictions:

  1. If the state has expanded testing, contact tracing of COVID-19 patients, and the ability to isolate and support people who have tested positive or were exposed to COVID-19.

  2. Whether the state protect its most vulnerable residents — the elderly and medically vulnerable — from COVID-19 by quickly containing outbreaks in facilities such as nursing homes and prisons.

  3. How well the state's hospital and health systems can handle surges in COVID-19 patients.

  4. Whether the state has developed new treatments for the coronavirus by working with private, public and academic partners.

  5. If businesses, schools and child care facilities can maintain social distancing, including state guidelines requiring health checks for employees and customers who enter.

  6. Whether the state has determined when it will reinstitute virus containment measures, including stay-home orders, by tracking the right data and quickly communicating those measures to the public.

Full coronavirus coverage: Coronavirus In California: What To Know

Patch staffer Toni McAllister contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Across California Patch