California Home Order Renewed Amid COVID-19 Rise

Strict restrictions on businesses and activities will apply for the foreseeable future throughout Southern California, as COVID-19 patients continue to flood the region’s healthcare system.

While not unexpected, the extension of the local home order for both Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley on Tuesday highlighted the state’s precarious pandemic position.

California recorded its highest number of new coronavirus infections in a single day on Monday, with 66,811. Although the count includes a backlog of the long Christmas weekend, in which many provinces did not issue reports, officials said they expect in the coming weeks, there will again be an increase in new infections due to gatherings and travel during the winter holidays.

Experts warn that any significant increases in coronavirus cases will always cause a corresponding increase in the number of people to be admitted to hospital two to three weeks later. Hospitals around the world care for more than 20,000 coronavirus-positive patients, the largest number since the pandemic began.

“If we are to get through this, the rallies must stop and strict precautions must be followed by businesses that have been allowed to stay open,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s a horrible situation – one we’re avoided so far, and frankly, one we know was preventable because we ‘ve stopped it before.”

The state-defined regions of Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have been under the latest home order since Dec. 6.

These regions cover a total of 23 counties that make up California’s most populous people: Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Calaveras, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne.

Officials said the latest round of restrictions – which include reduced capacity at retail stores; the closure of some businesses, including hair salons, nail salons, card rooms, museums, zoos and aquariums; and a ban on most gatherings, hotel accommodation for tourism and outdoor restaurants – aimed at armoring hospitals against a torrent of COVID-19 patients.

Orders are placed when the availability of beds in the intensive care unit in a region falls below 15%, as has now happened in four of the five defined regions of the state: Southern California, San Joaquin Valley, the Bay and Greater Sacramento.

Only rural Northern California is currently not subject to the additional rules.

Once set, it has a mandatory lifespan of three weeks. They may be lifted thereafter, depending on the expected hospital conditions in the near future.

Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley reached their minimum of three weeks Monday. However, both regions remained available in their ICUs for more than a week at 0%.

Despite the staggering percentage, this does not mean that there are no unoccupied ICU beds; the state uses a weighted formula to ensure that some remain open to patients who do not have COVID-19.

“Whether we can eventually increase our ICU capacity to an adequate level depends on the behavior of Los Angeles County residents – and the residents of the entire Southern California,” Solis said Tuesday. “COVID-19 cases are not confined to the borders of one country.”

Although hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 and stuck for more cases, a small ray of hope dawned on Monday indicating that the stay-at-home order has an effect.

Broadly speaking, the average daily number of cases reported over a week-long period has dropped slightly from the peak, reaching around 45,000 per day for the seven-day period ending on 22 December. By Monday night, the average daily number of new cases of coronavirus was about 38,000.

However, the improvement is nothing to be happy about. Monday’s daily average is still worse than the comparative figure of two weeks ago. It will probably take a few weeks before this flattening of new cases of coronavirus results in a slight weakening of new hospitalizations – a small delay before what officials and experts expect will be another increase in new infections due to meetings and travel during the winter holidays.

And California’s hospitals are clearly already in a crisis. Worldwide, 20,390 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized as of Monday, and 4,308 of them were in the ICU. Both of these figures are an all-time high and represent an increase of 43% and 40% respectively from two weeks ago.

In LA County, hospitals were so crowded that some conference rooms and gift shops had to be converted into patient care areas. Others report such high oxygen demand by COVID-19 patients that they have difficulty maintaining air pressure in the pipes or have a shortage of supplies.

But government officials still found reason to claim that the stay-at-home orders were working and that some residents were taking the orders more seriously than before.

Without the orders, government officials and some experts say California will be in an even more precarious position.

“It would have been much, much worse if we had not instituted some of these interventions,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of health and human services in California, said the plateau in average new daily cases of coronavirus looks real, and that it could provide a slight respite. However, officials said they fully expect hospitals to be hit by January’s flurry of patients infected during Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, stressing the importance of even a small dip in infections.

“We’re glad to see a little plateau,” Ghaly said. Without this flattening, “the impact we expect from Christmas is [and] New Year would be even worse. ”

This is all the more reason, Ghaly said, to show that many new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths can be easily prevented if people stay at home and look forward to New Year’s gatherings.

“These are going to be the things that help us keep this slight decline down or … just a flattening of the upward trends that help us expect a slightly diminished impact on our hospitals,” Ghaly said.

The average daily number of new cases of coronavirus has also started to level off in LA County, which has typically moved about 14,000 a day over the past twelve days.

However, provincial officials warn that the case load should flatten out at a significantly lower point for hospitals to become safer.

A count of 14,000 to 15,000 cases a day ‘is too high for us to take comfort in,’ LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said last week. “We will have to flatten out at a much slower pace to protect our hospitals.”

Ferrer said Monday it is clear from what happened after Thanksgiving that “mixing with people outside your immediate household is one of the main causes for the current boom.”

“All that is needed is one unfortunate encounter with an individual with COVID-19, so that you can become infected, and that you unfortunately have to infect many others,” Ferrer said. She called on people who have traveled for Christmas or other winter holidays to quarantine themselves for at least ten days to see if they get signs of illness.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in California is still the highest. Sunday was the thirtieth consecutive day that the COVID-19 hospitalizations of the state reached a new high, at 19,766, nearly eight times the number on November 1st.

The number of people in the state ICUs with COVID-19 is also at an all-time high – 4,228 as of Sunday, nearly six times more than on November 1st.

Over the past week in California, an average of 231 people have died from COVID-19. California is on track this week to celebrate its 25,000th COVID-19 death. On Monday night, 24,555 deaths were counted across the country.