SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is staying in a “range of stability” on coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and plans to move ahead with reopening efforts amid widespread protests that have brought people together in mass gatherings not seen in months, the state’s top health official said Thursday.
After near daily press conferences by Gov. Gavin Newsom over a two-month period, the news turned in recent days to protests statewide over the killing of George Floyd. The protests brought together thousands of people in cities throughout the state. Newsom hasn’t announced any new reopening guidelines this week, including highly anticipated guidance on how schools can reopen or information on professional sports, which he said recently might begin without fans by early June.
“I don’t want to say that there’s been no consideration for the totality of the events in the last days and weeks,” said Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services agency. He said his agency is working on guidance so communities can open additional sectors based on their data and needs.
He acknowledged it will be weeks before the effects of the protest on public health are fully known. He highlighted the “importance of the freedom and liberty to protest” but added, “it does create infectious disease concern that we weren’t contending with before.”
The developments have not appeared to change the reopening plans for counties as health officials continue to monitor virus cases. In Marin County, where reopening has been slower, officials recently allowed for outdoor retail and are looking into allowing indoor retail, said Laine Hendricks, a county spokeswoman. In Orange County, officials recently inquired whether pools and sports fields could be reopened.
Nearly 120,000 people have tested positive for the virus, with 2,120 new cases detected on Wednesday, according to state data. That’s up less than 2% from the day before. Hospitalizations have gone slightly up in recent days, and more than 4,400 people have died.
Ghaly said the state has consistently seen 2,000 to 2,400 new cases a day, except for one recent day when new cases spiked to 3,700. He said that is likely explained by more testing that day and delayed reporting by a few labs. He said increases in hospitalizations may be explained by hospitals recording positive cases in patients who have come in for elective or routine procedures.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
In a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, 48% of people say the worst is yet to come while 46% say the worst is behind the state. Concern that the worst is yet to come is highest among black people, at 69%, and lowest among whites, at 41%. Just over half of Asian and Latino respondents say so.
More people are concerned about the state lifting restrictions too quickly than not quickly enough, according to the poll.
Laine Hendricks, a spokeswoman for Marin County, said officials expect to reopen sectors of the economy, then wait a couple of weeks to evaluate the impact before moving onward. “If we start to see a surge in hospitalizations or a really rampant surge in cases, we will likely stop and assess,” she said.
“At this point, we’re continuing to go forward.”