California Warns of Stay-Home Order as Hospital Strain Grows

California is considering a return to stay-at-home orders as hospitalizations from the coronavirus soar, with projections showing that intensive-care demand could exceed capacity in the next month, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

Hospitalizations, already nearing a July record, are expected to double or triple by Christmas, Newsom said at a briefing Monday. A recent surge in cases means health-care systems are poised to become even more strained in the weeks ahead, he said. If infections continue rising at their current rate, the most-populous state will run out of intensive care beds by mid-December, well before the holiday.

“That’s why we are making this point very loudly today,” Newsom said. “If these trends continue, we are going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic action.”

Many counties now in the most-restrictive tier for business activities -- areas that are home to 99% of California population -- may face further limits, though the rules may not be as stringent as in the spring, Newsom said. Such action may come soon, possibly within days.

“We’ll be seeing a lot more of you all this week,” he told reporters. “This is a dynamic week, this is an incredibly important week in the history of this pandemic for this nation, not just this state.”

California, like the rest of the U.S., has been grappling with its fastest increase in infections since the pandemic began. The two-week average of cases is now more than 13,000 a day, far exceeding a summer surge. In most of the state, businesses from indoor restaurants to theaters have been shut, while a curfew is in place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

L.A. Shutdown

Los Angeles County, the epicenter of California’s outbreak and home to 10 million residents, has imposed a limited stay-at-home order that starts Monday. Hospitalizations are expected to jump to 2,500 in two weeks from the current 2,185, Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health, said at a separate briefing.

Medical centers are making plans for a surge in patients, including potentially limiting non-essential surgeries, she said. Her biggest concern is health workers, with more than 700 of them getting sick this week alone.

“We are at the most difficult moment of the pandemic,” Ferrer said Monday. “The virus is running rampant through almost every part of our county.”

The new wave comes even as several coronavirus vaccines near release. Newsom said Monday that California would receive 327,000 doses of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine in about two weeks, and the state expects to issue this week its plan for distributing those first doses.

Newsom and Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, on Monday blamed the spike on people mixing -- particularly indoors -- in both business and social settings. They spent last week begging residents not to host large family gatherings for Thanksgiving or travel to visit relatives, requests that many Californians ignored.

Newsom on Monday urged people who had traveled for the holiday to quarantine themselves to ensure they don’t spread the virus.

“I hope people understand the magnitude of this moment,” Newsom said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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