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 two weeks, from about 4,750 in a Nov. 8 update to over 9,800 by Sunday. It stood at 9,894 after Monday’s addition of 8,337 new cases.
For the week ending Sunday, the state 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; by Monday, it had grown to nearly 5,500. The rate has more than doubled since Nov. 6 and has stayed on a sharp incline all November.
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 5,459 in hospitals, at least 1,333 are in intensive care units, up 88% since the start of the month. The available ICU bed total has risen back above 2,000 as hospitals work to boost capacity and staffing, but those beds 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, at least 18,726 Californians have died of COVID-19, according to CDPH data last updated Monday.
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.
How bad is the surge? Is it just from increased testing?
California reported sky-high case totals Saturday and Sunday, as those two days also smashed testing records.
The state on Saturday reported over 240,000 diagnostic COVID-19 tests processed, and added 265,000 more on Sunday and 220,000 Monday. The previous high before the weekend was 202,000.
Even given the drastic uptick in testing capacity, test positivity rate — still viewed as one of the most important indicators of true spread of the virus — remains on the rise in California. As a rolling 14-day average, the statewide positivity rate has grown from 3.4% to 5.5% in the past two weeks. The metric bottomed out at a record-low 2.5% in mid-October.
The rate is now 5.8% for the past seven days. Saturday and Sunday’s nearly 30,000 cases from a pool of over 500,000 tests works out to 5.9% positivity over the weekend.
To date, labs in California have processed more than 22 million coronavirus tests.
Greater Sacramento area reaches 50,000 cases
The six-county Sacramento region has combined for at least 719 COVID-19 deaths and more than 50,000 total confirmed infections during the ongoing health crisis.
Sacramento County has recorded 34,186 lab-positive coronavirus cases and 550 resident deaths from the virus. The county set a record high last Thursday with 559 cases, then reported 454 more on Friday. Officials then added 1,321 on Monday for a period including the weekend, which works out to about 440 a day.
Hospitalizations continue to grow intensely, reaching 255 in Sacramento County on Sunday, quickly approaching the peak from summer of 281 in late July. The county now has 52 patients in ICUs, up from 21 as of Nov. 1. Neither number changed from Sunday to Monday.
The county on Monday estimated that about 6,700 residents have active cases of coronavirus, with the rest either deceased or “likely recovered.” Though a rough estimate, this total is at its highest point of the entire pandemic, already more than 3,000 higher than peak of the summer surge.
At least 31 Sacramento County residents died of the virus between Nov. 1 and Nov. 17, health officials said Monday.
Yolo County has reported 4,257 total lab-confirmed cases during the pandemic, adding 58 Monday after 61 Sunday and 89 Saturday. The county reported three new deaths since Thursday, for a total of 74.
Yolo had 15 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 as of Monday, with eight in ICUs, according to the latest state data. The hospitalized total increased by one while the ICU figure dropped by one compared to Sunday.
Placer County has reported 6,071 cases during the pandemic, adding 384 since Friday.
The county reported four deaths last week: one Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The countywide death toll is now 65.
Placer’s spike in hospitalized cases continues to break records on a daily basis. The county said Friday it had 91 patients in hospital beds with confirmed coronavirus as of Friday, a number that has tripled since Halloween, with 83 (91%) in hospitals specifically “because of COVID.” The county says 10 are now in ICUs, nine of whom are being treated specifically for the disease.
State data, which has varied slightly from the county’s self-reported numbers, on Monday showed Placer at 93 hospitalized and nine in ICUs, down from 97 and 11 respectively on Sunday.
El Dorado County is one of a few California counties with a single-digit death toll, with just four fatalities since the start of the pandemic. But new cases are coming at an accelerated pace and hospitalizations are rising fast as well.
The county on Monday added 78 cases covering the weekend for a cumulative total of 2,018. El Dorado had 10 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Monday, with half of them in ICUs, both the same as Sunday.
Sutter County health officials have reported a total of 2,806 people positive for coronavirus and 14 deaths. The county added 111 new cases Monday, a single-day high.
Yuba County officials have reported a total of 1,788 COVID-19 infections and 10 deaths. The county reported 28 new infections Monday.
Sutter and Yuba, sister counties that share a public health office and have a combined total of one hospital, have seen the COVID-19 patient total at that hospital shoot up very quickly. Adventist Health/Rideout in Marysville was treating 27 virus patients as of Friday, the local health office said. State data showed Rideout’s total at 21 hospitalized, with five in ICUs, as of Sunday.
The Bee’s Rosalio Ahumada, Tony Bizjak, Sophia Bollag, Dale Kasler, Vincent Moleski, Jason Pohl, Ryan Sabalow and Andrew Sheeler contributed to this story. Listen to our daily briefing: