California coronavirus cases keep growing, Newsom urges vigilance

California coronavirus cases keep growing, Newsom urges vigilance


As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to spike across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday tried a new strategy to convince Californians to remain vigilant about social distancing: He gave them new access to the state’s COVID-19 data and predictive models, showing how bad things are and how bad they might get.

Warning about the ongoing dangers of the virus while simultaneously defending his decision to continue reopening the state’s economy, Newsom unveiled two websites intended to provide a more transparent look into California’s coronavirus response. The first, calcat.covid19.ca.gov, shows the virus’ rate of spread in each county throughout the state, compares the various academic models health officials use to guide policies, and predicts what might happen as various shelter-in-place orders are lifted. The second, github.com/stateofcalifornia/calcat, provides the same data in an open-source format.

“I’m sure in his heart of hearts he wishes he could grab every Californian by the lapel and shout: ‘Put on your damn mask!’ ” said Jack Pitney, an expert in politics who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “But he can’t do that, so the next best thing is to put out as much information as possible laying out the need for more action on the part of ordinary citizens.”

As counties around California are reopening everything from restaurants to hair salons, the state’s hospitals have seen their numbers of coronavirus patients increase 32% over the past two weeks. ICU cases have risen 19%, and officials are watching closely for signs that medical centers are reaching capacity.

The state is monitoring 15 counties reporting elevated transmission, increased hospitalization or limited hospital capacity. And Los Angeles County — which is the nation’s most populous — now has more cases than any other county in the U.S., with 91,467 confirmed cases as of Thursday, according to data compiled by this news organization.

The Bay Area had reported nearly 22,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, and more than 550 deaths. Statewide, the number of infections surpassed 200,000.

Despite rising infections, re-openings continued this week. Santa Cruz County planned to reopen all its beaches Friday, after keeping most closed for two months. San Francisco received state approval Thursday to reopen more businesses and planned to allow hair, nail and tattoo salons, outdoor bars and massage establishments to welcome customers starting Monday. But Disneyland pushed back its planned July 17 reopening.

Newsom on Thursday again stressed the importance of continuing to wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing. “We are not victims of fate,” he said. “It’s decisions, not conditions, that determine our fate and future.”

In addition to case numbers, state and local health officials make choices about what to shut down and when to reopen based in part on academic models that predict how the virus will spread over time. Newsom attempted to provide some insight into that process Thursday.

For example, an ensemble of several different models suggests the state could have 14,682 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 by July 25 — up from 4,240 Thursday. The different models present widely divergent forecasts.

Newsom invited mathematicians, coders, scientists and researchers to dive into the open-source data and use it to come up with their own models.

“We want to make the modeling more purposeful,” Newsom said. “We want to make it more advantageous. We want to make it more meaningful. We want it to promote a different outcome by promoting a different consciousness and ultimately promoting a different behavior.”

Newsom also suggested the new websites could help take some of the heat off county health officials, who have gone from heroes to public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many Californians desperate to get back to a normal life without restrictions.

“It is interesting. And it is smart — but it’s probably not going to make as much difference as he hopes it will,” said political expert Dan Schnur, who teaches at the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley.

That’s because the people most skeptical of orders to wear masks or avoid gatherings aren’t likely to spend much time navigating the new data websites, Schnur said. And that means local health officials are likely to continue facing criticism.

Even so, some in the field are excited to jump into the new data. Among epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford III and his colleagues at UCSF School of Medicine, the consensus is that the websites are “pretty cool.”



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