California’s daily death toll reached a record high Friday as Gov. Gavin Newsom discussed how the state would navigate a “pandemic-induced recession.”
Calling it the “worst 24-hour period” of the virus the state has seen, Newsom said Friday that health officials recorded another 95 deaths over the last day.
“That’s humbling, and it should be eye-opening to people who think that we’re out of the woods,” Newsom said.
A total of 1,021 people have died of the virus in California as of Friday afternoon and 28,887 people have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times tracker, which collects data directly from health care providers and reports it sooner than public officials.
Newsom said social distancing efforts must carry on for the immediate future since the curve has “begun to flatten” but not to the point where “we’re ready to celebrate.” Deaths are still climbing at a concerning rate and infections continue to rise, leaving open the question of when and how California can reopen.
During his daily news briefing, Newsom turned the state’s attention toward how it will rebound economically in the coming months and what that recovery may look like. It’s an unclear picture, still developing as the fight against the virus continues. Newsom said the state will take a cautious approach “predicated on health, predicated on data, predicated on science.”
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, we’re going to do this thoughtfully and judiciously,” the governor said.
The state is organizing an economic advisory committee to guide recovery efforts, which features former Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger among a total of 80 business figures, according to Newsom. The state expects to spend $7 billion grappling with economic fallout from the outbreak.
“These are sober and challenging times, and we believe very confidently these are not permanent moments,” he said Friday.
An estimated 3.1 million Californians have filed for unemployment since March 12, marking an end to 119 consecutive months of job growth, Newsom said. The state’s unemployment rate now stands at a record-low of 3.9%.
While California plans financial recovery efforts, the ongoing fight against the virus continues to leave health care facilities overwhelmed. Efforts by the state and FEMA have made more crucial supplies available, from ventilators refurbished and supplied by the state to another 1,000 hospital beds provided by the USNS Mercy docked at the Port of L.A.
However, a national shortage of N95 masks in particular has led to medical workers protesting outside hospitals around the state. Those respiratory masks are widely known for providing better protection than other facial coverings like surgical masks or bandanas.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration have described them as critical to the protection of medical workers, telling the general public not to buy the masks since those treating COVID-19 patients need them most.
In Santa Monica, health care workers protested outside Providence Saint John’s Health Center Friday to demand N95 masks for those treating virus patients. The hospital has told KTLA it is limited by the national shortage but is working to supply more masks through a sterilization process.
A report Friday by the Los Angeles Times indicates more hospital staff in California are getting sick than many of the facilities or public officials have revealed. More than 175 cases have surfaced at UCLA, according to the report.
In Los Angeles County, where nearly half the state’s deaths have been reported in recent days, health officials said Friday that another 40 people died from the virus. A total of 495 patients in the county have died, a grim death toll that grew higher for three straight days this past week.
Meanwhile, across the state, health officials appear increasingly concerned over the growing number of COVID-19 cases tied to nursing homes and similar facilities — 3,500 cases have been linked to senior care providers, Newsom said. At a facility in Tulare, 157 out of 167 people tested positive, he said.
Clusters of deaths and infections in the rural Central Valley have drawn the attention of state health officials including a nursing home tied to 10 deaths and a Safeway warehouse where 51 people were infected.
On Thursday, the governor announced two weeks of paid sick leave would be provided by the state to such warehouse workers as well as delivery drivers and farm workers. The assistance is intended to ensure these essential workers do not feel pressured to show up if they’re feeling sick.
Newsom signed an executive order Thursday that covers those who work for large employers, filling a gap left by a federal act this month that required employers to provide emergency paid sick leave but exempted those with more than 500 workers.
“These workers on the front lines of this crisis are our unsung heroes for continuing to work to ensure that Californians have food on their tables during these challenging times, and we must do everything in our power to make sure they are taken care of at home and in the workplace,” Newsom said.
“You are not disposable. You are essential,” he said.
California’s month-long stay-at-home order closed many businesses but exempts food suppliers, considering them as essential infrastructure.
But many industry workers are low-paid and lack benefits. A survey of more than 30,000 service workers taken between 2017 and 2019 by the Shift Project at the University of California, Berkeley found that 55% reported they didn’t have paid sick leave. The survey, reported Thursday by CNN, covered workers in various service jobs, including food services.
Newsom’s order mandates sick leave for full-time workers who have the virus or who cannot work because of quarantine orders, in addition to leave they may already have.
Some large employers are granting paid COVID-19 sick leave to workers but they require proof in the form of a positive diagnosis — a problem because COVID-19 tests remain in short supply in many places.
Several cities, including San Francisco, already passed measures requiring large companies to provide 14 days of leave to workers affected by COVID-19 — the period many health experts say is necessary to ensure that a worker isn’t infectious. San Francisco’s bill was expected to cover about 200,000 workers.
It’s the latest package announced by Newsom in recent weeks, as his Department of Finance staff told lawmakers Thursday that it expects to spend up to $7 billion this year battling the coronavirus and the economic disruption it has caused.
At the Safeway warehouse where dozens of workers were infected, one employee died. Pedro Zuniga of Turlock, died on Monday, according to his son, Jose Valencia.
Valencia told KTXL-TV that his father had a fever and began showing COVID-19 symptoms earlier this month after a work shift, and the family believes he was infected by a coworker.
“It’s hard just because I feel like his death could have been prevented,” Valencia said.
Northern California Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall said about 3% of the 1,700 workers at the Tracy facility have tested positive for the virus and enhanced safety measures are in place. It provides groceries to about 300 stores throughout Northern California, Nevada and Hawaii.
“We continue to reinforce with all associates the importance of social distancing as the most effective tool we have to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Gutshall said in a statement. She said all common areas are closed and workers are encouraged to take breaks by themselves.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
More than 970 people have died from the virus in California, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Dozens of healthcare workers, police and firefighters have come down with COVID-19 and there are concerns that other essential workers are at risk.