New California stay-home order weighed as COVID hospitalizations surge

By Sharon Bernstein and Steve Gorman

a man holding a sign: People wear masks as they walk along the side walk during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in California

© Reuters/MIKE BLAKE
People wear masks as they walk along the side walk during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday he may impose tougher coronavirus restrictions over the next two days, including a possible stay-at-home order, to counter surging COVID-19 hospitalizations that threaten to overwhelm intensive care units.

Newsom said projections show ICU admissions are on track to exceed statewide capacity by mid-December unless public health policies and social behavior patterns are altered to curb the spread of the virus.

Last week, Newsom instituted a curfew barring social gatherings and other non-essential activities across most of the state between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily.

The curfew and other constraints placed on social and economic activity across California, a state of some 40 million people, already represent some of the most stringent COVID-19 public health measures in effect nationwide.

Newsom told reporters during an online briefing the next round of restrictions under consideration may include an order similar to California’s first-in-the-nation statewide stay-home mandate, imposed in March, at the outset of the pandemic.

Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous, has already taken such a step, banning nearly all social gatherings of people from more than one household, around the clock, for the next three weeks, under an order that took effect on Monday.

The governor and the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said they are primarily focused on trying to curb soaring COVID-19 infection rates that are expected to strain hospital resources to a dangerous level.

Roughly 12% of daily new COVID-19 cases in California end up requiring hospitalization within two weeks of infection, with as many as 30% of patients eventually requiring admission to ICU wards or respiratory support, they said.

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have already climbed nearly 90 percent over the past two weeks, Newsom said.

Even more alarming, the governor cited data projections showing hospital ICU wards reaching 112% of capacity by mid-December statewide – and 134% of capacity in northern California by early next month – even if hospitals overall have room to spare.

Three-fourths of ICU beds statewide are already occupied.

“What we worry about this time is specifically the ICUs,” Ghaly said. “Even when we may be using only 70% of our hospital beds in the state, we’re using over 100% of the projected capacity in ICU space.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler)

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