The result: California is now experiencing a significant spike in coronavirus cases. The numbers had increased steadily since the end of April, but then started to rise sharply in mid-June. Every day, the state’s seven-day trend line reaches record levels.
The increase in the number of cases is not simply due to more testing; it is also due to a higher percentage of people tested having the virus. The portion of tests that return positive has increased by more than 50% in the past 2½ weeks. Today, around 7% of people tested are infected.
This explains why hospitalizations in California for COVID-19 have increased by 60% since June 13 and surpassed statewide peaks in April. Once again, some hospitals are preparing to stop performing elective surgeries so that more beds can be opened for patients with the virus.
This is the scenario that health experts – specifically, Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health official – warned. Although the state is better prepared than in March, it is sorely lacking in testing and contact tracing needed to stem the spread of the virus.
And this time it lacks a clear direction from its governor. As Newsom implores us to do our part – wearing masks, washing our hands and socially distancing ourselves – it has sent mixed and mixed messages about what constitutes compliance. He wavered between warnings about the dangers of the virus and declarations of the urgent need to reopen the state economy.
Meanwhile, even members of their own health service do not know how the rules differ from county to county. No wonder people are confused.
Unlike President Trump, Newsom clearly understands the dangers and science of COVID-19. But like the president, the governor of California likes to be heard and when placed in front of a microphone, he walks for an hour without concentrating – which undermines critical warning messages.
Like Trump, Newsom continues to try to push accountability to the next lower level of government. Trump says it’s up to the states to fight the coronavirus; Newsom says it’s in the counties.
The two leaders threatened that if they did not like the results, they would intervene. Yet pressure from Trump and Newsom to reopen has undermined attempts by conscientious local health officials to keep the line.
Finally, Wednesday, Newsom acted, seeking to slow down the damage caused by its own policy. It was presented as a step backwards, ordering bars and many interior businesses in 19 counties to close. But some of the counties on the list, such as Contra Costa and Santa Clara, had not yet reopened these businesses.
Certainly, Newsom shows a much deeper understanding of the threat of coronaviruses than Trump and has modeled responsible behavior. Unlike the president, Newsom is not afraid of being seen in public wearing a mask. It does not claim that the virus will suddenly disappear. It is not disconnected from reality.
Unfortunately, the governor has spent too much time in the past two months reopening the challenge rather than containing the virus. Meanwhile, COVID-19 deaths in California have continued to increase, now to almost 6,300. It is shameful that almost half are in care facilities for the elderly and that the Newsom administration has was pathetically slow to respond to this part of the crisis.
Until there is a vaccine, the best treatment is a generalized and systematic test to make sure that people do not return to the workplace or venture out without first being checked for the virus.
Newsom regularly boasts of increased testing and tracing of state contacts. What he doesn’t mention in his almost daily rotation is that the state performs less than half the number of tests needed to reduce the spread of the virus and only about 11% of what is needed to reopen the economics, according to an analysis by Harvard researchers.
For this test to be effective in stopping the spread of the virus, it must be accompanied by sufficient follow-up of those who have been in contact with people who test positive for the virus. Here again, California has only half of what it needs.
Newsom’s leadership is woefully inadequate. In the coming weeks, we will see how the increasing number of cases in California is followed by a proportional increase in hospitalizations, then in deaths.
Unfortunately, this will be the ultimate measure of Newsom’s performance.