Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge
OAKLAND, California - California has some of the toughest restrictions in the country to fight the coronavirus, from a total ban on dining to travel quarantines and indoor gym closures.
It wasn't enough.
America's most populous state has become one of the nation's worst epicentres for the disease, breaking new records for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths almost daily. It's so bad in Southern California that some patients are treated in hospital tents while doctors discuss whether they need ration supplies.
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The turnaround has confused executives and health experts. You can point out a number of reasons that have contributed to California's surge in recent weeks. But it's hard to pinpoint a single factor - and just as hard to find a silver bullet.
It couldn't come at a worse time as the Christmas and New Years holidays have come and officials fear residents will travel and gather even more frequently than during Thanksgiving season, which drives current trends.
“We are facing a very, very difficult and very dangerous time in our county, in our region and in our state. All of our numbers are going in the wrong direction and our reality is pretty grim right now, ”Santa Clara County's health officer Sara Cody said Wednesday.
"If we have a rise over a rise," she added, "we will definitely break."
With more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents per day, the case rate in California is the second largest in Tennessee after the nonprofit prosecution site Covid Act Now - although it's a state that doesn't require the wearing of masks and indoor gatherings of up to 10 people allowed people. The Covid Exit Strategy website shows a 97 percent increase in Covid across California that has gone in the opposite direction to its counterparts on the West Coast, Oregon and Washington.
Los Angeles officials have been saying all along that people gathered too often. They blamed celebrations and postseason parties when the Dodgers and Lakers won championships this fall.
Some blamed the strict rules themselves, saying that the banded Californians couldn't take it any longer and decided they had to live their lives. Others have said the community situation remains a serious problem in a state with cramped housing, especially in low-income communities where residents are cramped and must continue to work in person to survive.
The state has not used strict enforcement and has relied on its regulators to cite the worst offending agencies on a case-by-case basis. But there is no real hammer against people who congregate or engage in everyday social activities, and many local law enforcement agencies have specifically stated that they will not remain the police who stay at home.
"It's a big state. We get big numbers when things go wrong," said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and statistics at the University of California at San Francisco.
California has begun providing its first vaccine grants to healthcare workers, but vaccination is not expected to have a dramatic effect on the spread of infection for months until it becomes more widespread.
Meanwhile, the state is running out of levers to control the spread and public health officials have no choice but to ask residents to abide by the rules.
Governor Gavin Newsom has been saying all along that the state relies on social pressure to keep people apart. The state, with the help of private donors, has spent tens of millions of dollars on billboards and advertising promoting responsible behavior. But Newsom himself was wrong in November when he attended a lavish dinner party with lobbyists - a faux pas that fueled resentment and opposition from residents who were already threatened by months of bans.
California, with nearly 40 million residents, is approaching 2 million cases and more than 22,000 deaths. After every calculation, the outbreak numbers in California are staggering. Its rapid logarithmic growth has made the virus so widespread that it is simply easier to spread.
During the biggest shopping month of the year, parking spaces in shopping centers and shopping malls are full. Such shops are among the few indoor businesses that are allowed to remain open with the specified capacity limits. Mobility data from Google suggests that Newsom's orders for the December stay did little to keep people at home compared to previous months, although the baseline doesn't indicate whether traffic might be subdued compared to last December has been.
Rutherford does not believe the general population fully understands the severity of the current surge. "People think they can negotiate with the virus," he said. "Here's a hint: you can't."
Critics have questioned the science behind the regional lockdown orders. Public and industrial pressures have already convinced state health officials to reopen playgrounds and ease capacity restrictions on grocery stores. A judge at the Los Angeles court also said the county's ban on outdoor dining was "arbitrary" and there was insufficient evidence to suggest it was a source of the virus' spread.
“At the national level, there has been a kaleidoscopic application of every imaginable type of lockdown, with California being the most restrictive, causing the greatest havoc on small businesses and the most vulnerable service workers. And yet we are no better on COVID, ”Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement. "In fact, the virus continues to rage in LA, where indoor and outdoor dining is completely closed and indoor dining has been [closed] since July."
Congregation member Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) argued that the state's attempt to “turn off types of human interaction without seeing if it is effective” creates some kind of backlash - “people to higher risk activities drift "as more likely to gather at home than places like restaurants.
“The health authorities have lost credibility with a large part of the population. They're turning them off, "said Cunningham." The goalposts keep moving. ... People are fed up with it and don't think it makes sense and they're not wrong. "
However, there are small countervailing signs that California can change something.
The number of new cases no longer rose dramatically this week, rising to less than 40,000 a day. It also remains questionable to what extent California's wider test access will contribute to higher per capita figures than elsewhere. The positivity rate of 12 percent remains lower here than in many of the most severely affected countries. Only 16 states now have lower Covid-19 death rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of the transmission is being driven by the Central Valley and Southern California regions - areas more populous than many U.S. states - and some health experts argue that California's surge should be viewed as a multitude of outbreaks with unique causes. Most of northern California still has more than 10 percent intensive capacity, while the southern part of the state has moved into the ramp-up phase by comparison.
Even so, even residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, which had many of the strictest rules year-round, have given up to some extent on their vigilance and seen the numbers soar. For some, the decision to ignore the orders may be due to the survival of their stores and the ability to put groceries on the table. Many key workers and people living in deprived areas across the state have had few opportunities to continue working.
Andrew Noymer, associate professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California at Irvine, said people often look at California's status as a deep blue state to indicate that left-wing residents consistently agree to lockdown protocols and believe in staying home . But that ignores a large part of the residents who feel different, even if they are not a majority.
"In politics, 40 percent do not carry the day, but 40 percent can trigger the epidemic," said Noymer. "California is deep blue, but ... from a virus perspective, we're a lot purple than people are attributing to us." to the."
California on Wednesday reported a record 361 Covid-related deaths from the previous day, but the seven-day statewide positivity rate has declined slightly in recent days. San Francisco health officials noted this week that the reproductive rate of the virus is gradually declining - falling from 1.45 on December 5 to 1.24 on December 20 - a sign that orders are on for the stay at home may have started in the EU city.
But Noymer is more pessimistic. Given that December was the worst month of the pandemic even before the holidays, January could be worse, he said.
"We're not through this crisis," he said. "It's too early for a post-mortem analysis of what worked and what didn't."
Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.
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