California, the most populous US state and the first to implement a statewide lockdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak, is setting daily records this week for new cases as officials urge caution and dangle enforcement threats to try to curb the spikes.
The virus is spreading at private gatherings in homes, and more young people are testing positive, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. Infections at some prisons are raising concerns.
Counties that don’t enforce health orders that aim to halt the spread could see state funding withheld, Newsom said, urging residents to wear face coverings and social distance. The fiscal threat comes amid a surge in cases across several states and highlights tensions between public health guidelines and the push to resume life as it was before the pandemic.
“California has a responsibility and obligation legally and otherwise to enforce those laws,” Newsom said, adding that it may utilize “the power of the purse” to do so. “That will be an exception and we hope we never have to trigger that.”
The state broke a record Tuesday with an increase of more than 7,000 cases in a day, obliterating a record hit a day earlier, when more than 5,000 new cases were recorded, officials reported Wednesday.
The state’s positivity rate — how many people test positive compared with how many in total are being tested — has also been on the rise in recent days, as have hospitalizations, which are up nearly 30% in two weeks, the governor said.
Governor points to family gatherings
Newsom chided residents who are hosting private events at their homes, including family gatherings, children’s play dates and birthday parties.
“Many of us understandably developed a little cabin fever. Some of us, I would argue, developed a little amnesia. Others have just frankly taken down their guard,” the governor said Wednesday.
“People are mixing and that is increasing the spread of the virus,” he added.
The governor’s words echo reports from several parts of the state where health officials attributed a number of new cases to family gatherings.
In Northern California, the Shasta County Health and Human Services reported Tuesday several people tested positive for the virus after attending a graduation party.
Earlier this month, the county reported nearly 20 people were in quarantine after a man in his 20s who tested positive for the virus attended a large family gathering. Several of the people quarantined had symptoms, officials said.
Sacramento County, recorded “by far” its highest one-day increase this week, with 131 new cases, the county said on Facebook Tuesday. Contact tracers determined most new cases are linked to “gatherings among friends and extended family,” the county said.
“Avoid in-home gatherings with individuals who do not live in the same household,” county officials wrote.
Cases in younger people
The governor also noted there’s been an increase in the number of young people testing positive for the virus.
“There is a sense that a lot of young people, well you’re young so you feel a little bit more invincible but, respectfully, often that can be a selfish mindset,” Newsom said.
Even if younger people may not show as many symptoms, they are still spreaders of the virus.
“And they can spread it to people that simply cannot handle the virus as younger healthier people can,” he said.
The governor’s warning fits with those made by city and state leaders in other parts of the US — including across the South — who have said an increasing number of young people are testing positive.
Some officials across the country have pointed to parties, bars and other gatherings as where that spread is happening.
Unclear if protests had an impact
Because of the high volume of cases that have been coming in, officials have not been able to “pinpoint whether or not the exact source of an exposure was a protest,” Los Angeles County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.
“I do want to say that it’s highly likely, given the increased numbers that we’re seeing that some of this is in fact people who may have been in a crowded situation at one of the protests where there was spread,” Ferrer said.
CNN has reached out to the county’s health department for further details.
The state’s health department said late last week there was not sufficient data to “assess the impact of the recent protests.”
In San Francisco, officials said some testing sites that offer free testing don’t ask people getting tested if they recently participated in any demonstrations.
And in Alameda County, spokesperson Neetu Balram said in a statement there was still no “clear correlation between protest activities and increases in testing or positive cases.”
“We monitor our data continuously to inform our guidance and reopening actions. We are encouraging anyone who protested to get tested,” the statement said.
Some prisons a concern
Following a reporter’s question during his news conference, Newsom also mentioned a number of prisons as a concern for the state.
One of them — San Quentin State Prison — has more than 450 inmates who have tested positive. About 42% of the prisoners in the facility are medically vulnerable, Newsom said.
And according to data from the state’s corrections department, 433 of the new cases in the facility came in the last two weeks.
The governor said the state recently submitted a plan to the courts to have a number of inmates who are approaching their release date to be let out of prison early, to help bring down facility populations.
That process will begin July 1 and will be expedited for facilities like San Quentin, Newsom said.
Twenty inmates have died throughout the state’s prison system and there are more than 1,800 who are currently positive, according to data from California’s corrections department.