California is finally winning coronavirus battle, even as deaths keep rising
Three months into California's battle with the coronavirus, there are growing signs that the outbreak is ebbing even as the state death toll continues to climb past 3,400.
While deaths remain a stubborn challenge, other metrics analyzed by the Los Angeles Times show significant progress — enough that even some of the most cautious local health officials have agreed to begin reopening the economy.
The number of newly identified coronavirus cases across California has declined last week from the previous week, dropping to 12,229 cases from 13,041 the previous week. That's a notable achievement, given the amount of increased testing.
And across California, hospitalizations have dropped more than 15% from its peak six weeks ago, The Times analysis found.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had initially tied reopening counties at a faster pace than the statewide standard to zero coronavirus deaths over a two-week period, a benchmark that some hard-hit counties like Los Angeles have little hope of achieving any time soon.
But with many other hopeful signs, Newsom dropped the requirement this week in a move that will allow many urban counties to reopen much more quickly. A Times data analysis found that some counties, including Contra Costa, Monterey, Napa, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara and Yolo counties meet two key requirements needed to move into the next phase of reopening, which includes dine-in restaurants and shopping malls.
On Tuesday, Napa County said it had received state approval to reopen restaurant dining rooms and retail stores for in-person shopping; wineries, hair and nail salons still remain shut, and tourism is not allowed. Sacramento County said it also got a green light to reopen dine-in restaurants.
"What's really fantastic about this is that, for right now, our curve is not only flat, but it's actually decreasing in terms of number of hospitalizations," said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's director of health. "So this is very hopeful."
Deaths remain a persistent problem, with an average of 500 Californians dying from coronavirus infections every week, as is the growing disproportionate toll the disease is taking on blacks and Latinos. There remains deep worry about a resurgence of disease in the fall, and officials warn the disease may be with us for the next two years without a widely available vaccine.
But even officials who have taken the earliest, boldest steps to impose stay-at-home orders are now saying the situation has stabilized enough to permit a slow reopening of society.
There are two key indicators some officials are increasingly focusing on: hospitalizations and the percentage of people testing positive.
In Santa Clara County — the home of Silicon Valley and once a national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — in early April, 9% of people tested had positive results for the coronavirus, a time at which there were fewer than 600 tests a day in Silicon Valley, health officer Dr. Sara Cody said this week. In recent days, just 1% to 1.5% of people are testing positive, and the county is now able to receive results from around 1,600 tests a day.
"Hospitals have capacity... and finally, our testing capacity has also increased," she said.
Just last week, Cody warned against easing the stay-at-home order, saying relaxing it "would see a brisk return of cases, of hospitalizations, and a brisk return of deaths."
Since then, the number of deaths in Santa Clara County has continued to fall, dropping to six last week, the lowest weekly tally in 10 weeks.