California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday “we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases,” but that the state is now better prepared. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/TNS)

Newsom says no turning back on reopening plans, even as coronavirus cases climb

By Colleen Shalby

Los Angeles Times

California continues to see a surge in coronavirus cases, an expected consequence as stay-at-home orders implemented to stem the spread of the illness are lifted and more sectors of the economy reopen.

On Tuesday, for the second day in a row, the state reported more than 3,000 cases, bringing the total number of infections to over 137,000, the bulk of which is still in Los Angeles County.

Despite the upward trajectory of cases and a growing death toll, there are no plans to reverse course, officials said.

“As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday while speaking with Oakland community leaders.

“But we’ve also made it abundantly clear the concurrent recognition and commitment that we are in a substantially different place than we were 90 days ago. We have hundreds of millions of masks now in our possession.”

The governor pointed to the state’s increased testing ability, hospital capacity and an available supply of ventilators — key metrics in the decision to ease statewide modifications — as reasoning for pressing ahead.

Newsom said significant progress in the battle against the virus has been made since the pandemic first erupted in the United States earlier this year, “from a human resource perspective, human capital perspective, a physical capital perspective, a PPE perspective.”

Ten counties — Fresno, Imperial, Kings, Tulare, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Sacramento and Ventura — are currently being monitored for an increase in the number of transmissions or hospitalizations. A spike in numbers has been linked to outbreaks in jails, prisons and skilled nursing facilities as well as informal and formal gatherings over the past two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health.

As restrictions have been lifted after nearly three months of quarantine, personal reunions have begun, despite an ongoing prohibition of gatherings beyond political protests or worship services.

In Sacramento County, a surge in hospitalizations over the past weekend were linked to members of the same household who gathered recently for birthday parties and a funeral. Dr. Olivia Kasirye, the county’s health officer, said many people think “we’re out of the woods,” despite the reality.

Ventura County, among the first to ease coronavirus restrictions in Southern California, saw a similar spike in hospitalizations over the weekend, from 21 Friday to 43 on Monday. There are currently 39 individuals who are hospitalized, 12 of whom are in intensive care.

The statewide surge in the number of COVID-19 cases does not include any potential spread from protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, as the incubation period for the virus can take up to 14 days. But officials fear the demonstrations will lead to another spike in case count.

While many at the protests have worn face coverings, it is near impossible to keep a six-foot distance in the crowds. Officials are encouraging anyone who participated to get tested and to self-quarantine if they were potentially exposed to someone who is infected.

State officials are working with county leaders to assess whether their jurisdictions are ready to move further into the reopening stage.

In L.A. County, the state’s most populous, officials are monitoring the positivity rate to spot signs of an increase in transmission. Additionally, state officials are providing more resources and personal protective equipment to the county’s 235 skilled nursing facilities, where the testing of staff and residents has become a priority after prior scrutiny.

The county is one of several that could decide to reopen movie theaters, as well as bars, gyms and day camps, after state officials approved it for accelerating its reopening timeline.

Times staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.

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