California has experienced its highest coronavirus-related death toll for a single day since the outbreak began, with 115 fatalities reported in the state in the past 24 hours, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.
That figure represented an 8.5% increase from the previous day, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,469, according to the governor. The total number of cases rose by 5.6%, to 37,369.
“It’s … a reminder we’re not out of the woods yet. I know there’s a deep desire, people are making calls on an hourly basis, saying it’s time to open back up — consider the deadliest day in the state of California the last 24 hours,” Newsom said.
The number of coronavirus hospitalizations and ICU patients dropped for a second straight day, however, decreasing by 0.4% and 1.2% respectively.
And in another encouraging development, the number of cases under investigation for coronavirus for hospitalizations and in intensive care units also both dipped in the past day, the governor said.
Newsom’s latest update on California’s response to COVID-19 came after one influential coronavirus forecast tracking the pandemic suggested that the state has passed its peak, and that social distancing measures could be relaxed as early as later next month.
The highly cited coronavirus prediction model, from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, projects that California could relax social distancing measures as early as May 19.
But the forecast says that’s only possible assuming the state has containment strategies, such as increased testing and contact tracing, as well as limiting the size of gatherings.
The modeling also differs drastically from the state’s own forecast, which has consistently shown a later peak.
Newsom has not yet detailed a timeframe for when the state would reopen, though he acknowledged the frustration as demonstrated by protests across the state in the past week that seek to lift the restrictions soon.
He pointed to the state’s higher death toll as a reason for people to continue to practice physical distancing and, when that can’t possibly be done, to wear an appropriate face covering.
“This disease continues to spread, and we need to continue to spread the word of vigilance,” he said. “Individual acts on behalf of the collective community that will save lives and get the economy back much sooner than we otherwise would if we go back into fits and starts.”
Newsom emphasized again that the state’s decision on when to reopen the its economy hinges upon California meeting six critical indicators outlined by the governor last week. Those goals are based on a scientific and data-driven approach — not on political ideology, he said.
While the governor expressed a willingness to listen to arguments and learn of additional evidence, he stated that things like demonstrations or social media postings will not alone influence decisions.
“It won’t be a letter I receive, a tweet; it won’t be the expression of frustration that I and all of you share in terms of the stay-at-home order,” Newsom said. “It will be those indicators that drive our decision making. Not dates, we don’t debate dates.”
But while a timeline remains in question, the state has made some progress in reaching its charted milestones.
On Wednesday, for example, Newsom announced a small step in a positive direction when he said that essential surgeries — which were previously postponed to free up space hospitals and health care centers during the pandemic — can resume again.
The decision to allow such medical procedures to be rescheduled was based on the state’s progress to prepare hospitals for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients, which is one of the state’s six indicators in determining whether to ease stay-at-home restrictions, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Other key goals the state must meet to allow modifications include: expanded testing, tracking, tracing and isolating those diagnosed with or exposed to the virus; preventing at-risk populations from being infected; developing potential treatment to meet demand; ensuring physical distancing can be supported in places outside the home, like at businesses and schools; and the state’s ability to be able to reinstitute stay-at-home restrictions, if necessary.
According to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, the number of patients in intensive care has remained at stable levels since March 27, giving the state some confidence that it could go forward with some modifications.
Newsom also addressed the first key indicator — expanded testing — on Wednesday, noting the state has made significant progress on that front since last month.
California has ramped up testing since the end of March, going from averaging 2,000 tests a day to the current average of 16,000 daily, the governor said. He expressed hope that the state will meet and exceed its goal of 25,000 tests per day by the end of the month.
At the same time, the number of testing sites has also increased, with more than 600 now available throughout the state, according to Newsom.
But even when the state does hit its goals and eases stay-at-home measures, without a vaccine or effective therapeutics to treat the virus in place, Californians should expect daily life to look different for the foreseeable future.
“There’s no such thing as reopening and back to normal,” he said. “It’s normal with caveats. It’s reopening with conditions.”