California issues travel advisory as state reaches 1 million coronavirus cases

Michael McGough

Michael McGough

The Sacramento Bee

Restrictions are tightening back up in California’s reopening framework following tier demotions handed down to nine counties earlier this week, a response to coronavirus spread that has been spiking across the state for close to a month.

In the latest mitigating measure announced amid the worsening nationwide surge, the governors of the three West Coast states on Friday also issued a joint advisory, strongly urging against non-essential out-of-state travel. The advisory asks those who do travel to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in California, Oregon or Washington.

“Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a prepared statement. “Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives.”

The three states continue to recommend, on top of avoiding travel, that “individuals limit their interactions to their immediate household,” the announcement from Newsom’s office reads.

“This will be hard, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in the joint statement. “But the best way to keep your family safe is to stay close to home.”

California hits 1 million cases, with hospitalizations on rise

As of Thursday, more than 991,000 Californians had tested positive for COVID-19 during the health crisis, which began impacting the state in March. Over 18,000 residents have died of the virus.

Though the California Department of Public Health had not posted Friday’s daily update to the state’s official metrics as of 9 a.m., Newsom’s office in the morning’s travel advisory announcement said the state has surpassed 1 million cases.

California becomes the second state to reach that milestone. Texas, which has about 10 million fewer residents than California’s 40 million, hit the mark several days ago.

After solid progress trimming down its numbers in September and the first half of October, California’s coronavirus crisis is worsening again, though it’s not yet experiencing the dire level of crisis seen elsewhere in the U.S. such as the Midwest, where hospitals are already being overloaded with COVID-19 patients.

Still, California’s coronavirus infections and the statewide test positivity rate have been rising consistently since mid-October, state data show. In the past two weeks, the state has averaged more than 5,600 new infections per day, and 3.9% of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 have returned positive. The two-week rolling rate had dipped to a record-low 2.5% in mid-October.

The total for patients hospitalized with the respiratory disease has also spiked sharply since late October, along with the number of them requiring intensive care.

There were 3,300 in hospitals and 913 in ICUs as of a Thursday update from CDPH, the most for each in about two months. The hospitalized patient total, up 30% in the first 10 days of November, is increasing at a rate only slightly slower than that of the beginning of the summer surge.

Mid-June through August remains the state’s worst period yet of the pandemic. Daily infections soared, and hospitalizations skyrocketed from 3,100 in mid-June to nearly 7,200 by late July. In turn, August and September had the two highest death tolls of the health crisis, with close to 7,000 fatalities coming in those two months.

California’s average daily death toll has fallen to 40, its lowest point since early April and well below the 140 daily deaths averaged at the peak of the summer surge. But death rate, an indicator that correlates with hospitalization and ICU trends but tends to lag behind them by a few weeks, could likely begin to accelerate again before the end of November.

Demotions take effect in Sacramento, other counties

The state demoted Sacramento and San Diego counties on Tuesday to the purple tier, the strictest set of restrictions within the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment system. The downgrade means restaurant dining rooms, gyms, places of worship and a few other businesses and activities must close down indoor operations. School districts not already in the process of opening must pause their campus reopening plans.

Sacramento County’s local health order amendment to close those businesses takes effect at noon Friday, in line with a three-day grace period for compliance allowed by state health officials.

For many Sacramento restaurants, outdoor dining was feasible in spring and summer but has become far less practical as nighttime temperatures dip to the 50s, 40s or colder.

And in another quirk of timing, elementary school campuses in one suburban Sacramento County K-12 school district reopened on Thursday, two days after the purple tier announcement, because their plan to reopen this week was already in place. Nearly 5,000 students returned to 20 Folsom Cordova Unified campuses.

Seven other counties were demoted to the middle red or orange tiers this week. Those counties — Amador, Contra Costa, Modoc, Placer, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou and Trinity — have through the end of Friday to implement reductions to indoor capacity limits, cutting many of them in half compared to their previous yellow or orange tier requirements. They must also close a shorter list of mostly entertainment-based venues, such as bowling alleys and climbing gyms.

San Francisco is still in the yellow tier, but is banning indoor restaurant dining effective 11:59 p.m. Friday, proactively and well ahead of state health officials requiring the city to do so. Mayor London Breed announced the restaurant closure order earlier this week.

No counties were promoted this week; none even gained a week of credit toward a looser tier.

Twenty others spread across the state face potential demotion in next week’s updated list if their two main COVID-19 metrics — new cases per 100,000 and test positivity — do not improve enough to meet their current tier levels’ requirements.

Next Tuesday’s update will use data from the survey week of Nov. 1 to Nov. 7 to make tier assignments.

World numbers: Global death toll nears 1.3 million

Coronavirus activity in the U.S. continues to lead the world. The nation now has reported more than 10.5 million lab-confirmed cases and nearly 243,000 coronavirus deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The global totals are 53 million infected and just shy of 1.3 million dead.

The U.S. added more than 153,000 new cases Thursday, a new record, according to Johns Hopkins. On Wednesday, the global case total increased by 666,000, also a single-day record.

Following the U.S. in death toll are Brazil at 164,000, India at 129,000, Mexico at 97,000, the United Kingdom at 51,000, Italy at 44,000, France at about 42,500, and Iran and Spain each at about 40,500. Next are Peru and Argentina at close to 35,000 dead, and nearly 33,500 fatalities in Colombia. More than 32,000 have died in Russia.

In terms of infections, India follows the U.S. with more than 8.7 million, and Brazil is next at almost 5.8 million. France is closing in on 2 million, while Russia has surpassed 1.8 million. Spain, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Colombia and Italy all have between 1 million and 1.5 million cases, and Mexico is closing in on the million-case mark as well.

The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, Benjy Egel, Sawsan Morrar and Noel Harris contributed to this story.

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