May 6, 2020

California coronavirus cases push 60,000 amid reopening plans

More than 2,500 new coronavirus cases were reported in California on Tuesday — the highest single-day total statewide since the pandemic began — with the majority of the new infections centered in Los Angeles County, as debate continues to rage over easing statewide stay-at-home orders.

The state’s most populous county, which has been battered by the virus, reported an additional 1,638 cases Tuesday. The swell is largely due to a backlog in data reporting, according to Los Angeles County health officials. There have been nearly 28,000 confirmed infections in the county and more than 1,300 deaths.

California is poised to reach nearly 2,400 COVID-19 fatalities Wednesday and surpass 60,000 confirmed coronavirus infections statewide.

Despite the rising number of reported infections, the state has recorded its first week-over-week decline in deaths, according to a Times data analysis. Two weeks ago, California reported its highest one-week toll — 542 fatalities among people infected with the coronavirus. Last week, the weekly death toll dropped 9% to 495.

While it was an improvement, last week’s number was still the third-highest over the course of the pandemic.

This comes amid widespread discussions about whether there has been enough progress in slowing hospitalizations and deaths to loosen Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order and begin reopening struggling businesses.

Newsom announced this week that some lower-risk retailers would be allowed to reopen with modifications by Friday — such as sporting goods stores and florists for curbside pickup — marking the state’s first major easing of the social-distancing rules that have been credited with slowing the spread of the coronavirus and leaving California with far fewer fatalities than hot spots like New York and New Jersey.

California faces a particular challenge because some parts of the state have been hit much harder than others. Nineteen rural counties have no confirmed deaths, and in some suburban regions, the number of deaths has been limited.

But many health officials are urging caution, saying reopening the economy rapidly would cause cases and deaths to increase again.

“We do know as we reopen, more people will be out and about, and we’ll see more cases,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Nothing has really changed about the virus since March. The virus didn’t get less deadly. The virus didn’t get less infectious. The virus is still out there.”

Newsom has tried to set expectations, stressing social-distancing practices would remain in place as more people would be put at risk when restrictions were lifted.

The economy will start to reopen, but that doesn’t mean people can “go back to normal,” Newsom said. Since COVID-19 is still present, the reopening relies on Californians remaining cautious and following safety protocols.

The tension over when and how to reopen businesses and resume normal activities has begun heightening frustrations across the state. Some businesses have reopened in violation of the state’s order.

In Victorville, 24-hour fitness studio the Gym reopened last week with an 8-by-10-foot printout of the Constitution posted by the front door. Employees changed the colors of the studio’s sign to red, white and blue and hung banners that read #GymsAreEssential and #ReopenAmerica, according to owner Jacob D. Lewis.

Sutter and Yuba counties, with a combined population of 171,000 people and both north of Sacramento, allowed many businesses to reopen Monday after a similar decision was made in Modoc County, which has fewer than 9,000 residents in California’s northeastern corner.

Officials in the three counties argued that they were less affected by the pandemic than spots such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and said the shutdown was hurting their local economies.

They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk,” Newsom said Tuesday.

Tensions mounted in Orange County after Newsom ordered all beaches in the county to close last week. A string of protests against the governor and the stay-at-home order were held over the weekend amid rising discontent. The state relented this week and allowed five cities to reopen their beaches with certain limitations.

Several Orange County business owners told the Board of Supervisors during a public meeting Tuesday that they plan to reopen for business next week regardless of the state’s order.

In San Clemente, restaurant Nomads Canteen reopened for dine-in service at noon Friday. Orange County sheriff’s deputies, along with officials from the Orange County Health Care Agency, visited the restaurant over the weekend and said that a written warning would be issued, which could lead to permit suspension.

However, the county’s enforcement action earned a swift rebuke from Orange County Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner, who have made it clear that it will be up to local cities and the state to enforce regulations.

“We have worked with the Health Care Agency leadership about this unfortunate unilateral department action. We understand that [the agency] will take no enforcement action against Nomads as long as it continues to comply with Orange County’s guidelines. Further enforcement action pursuant to state or local orders will be up to the appropriate state or local law enforcement officials,” the supervisors wrote in a joint statement.

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