LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of California’s largest counties is recommending all residents wear face masks to combat the coronavirus, but Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t ready to take that idea statewide, focusing instead Wednesday on keeping people inside and adding thousands more hospital beds than previously stated.
Newsom now projects needing 66,000 more hospital beds for the anticipated peak of cases in late May — 16,000 more than his prior projections.
Newsom was expected to release guidelines for masks later in the day, but said he did not think they should be a substitute for staying home and taking other measures to prevent the spread of the virus. He also said a mask should not embolden people to think they’re impervious to the threat.
Riverside County public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said Tuesday that people who need to go out in public should use something — even bandanas — to cover their mouths and noses to protect others and themselves.
The virus is transmitted in droplets that can be spread through coughs or sneezes, so some type of covering could help even if it’s not a hospital-grade mask, Kaiser said.
Kaiser issued the recommendation because the county was seeing infections rise faster than predicted. At the current rate, the state’s fourth-largest county said Wednesday that it would run out of hospital beds April 12 and ventilators by April 26.
“When the situation changes, the rule book changes,” Kaiser said in a news release. “We’re seeing our numbers increasing even sooner than we predicted, and that means our strategy must change too.”
The spread of the virus statewide has, so far, been slow enough to give the state time to prepare for an expected spike in cases that could overwhelm hospitals if extreme measures aren’t taken to keep most people home and away from others.
The state had 8,800 cases of the virus and 187 deaths reported Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is keeping a global tally.
For more than a week, Newsom has been talking about increasing hospital beds in the state by two-thirds to add 50,000 new beds at locations that could include convention centers and arenas to cope with peak demand next month. On Wednesday, he increased that number by 16,000 beds.
“Modeling shows we’ll need roughly 66,000 beds towards the end of May,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said at a news conference with the governor.
Newsom had bad news for parents Wednesday when he said schools should plan to teach from afar for the rest of the academic year.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond provided similar guidance to districts Tuesday evening. The decision on whether students will return to the classroom will ultimately be up to school districts.