When Will California Reopen?

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a coalition with Washington and Oregon last week to determine when the West Coast states will begin to reopen. Among the six pillars needed to lift the shelter-in-place orders are widespread testing and contact tracing. The states will also need to see continued decreases in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The six pillars needed to lift the shelter-in-place orders: The first one is the ability to monitor and protect communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting people who are positive or exposed. The second one is the state’s ability to prevent infection in older or unhealthier people more at risk for severe COVID-19. Third is for hospitals and health systems to handle surges. Fourth is the ability to develop effective therapeutics — effective treatments to ease symptoms and help patients recover — to meet the demand. Fifth is for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing. And the final one is for the state to have confidence it can re-impose restrictions and even the stay-at-home order, if necessary.

Newsom said Tuesday that six indicators would lead to modifying, rather than removing the order, and that he won’t stop local health officers from maintaining stricter measures as they see fit. Newsom said modifications would come more like “a dimmer” rather than “a light switch”.

Last week was the deadliest yet in California and the Bay Area since the coronavirus crisis took hold. The state reported more than 100 deaths on two separate days, and the death toll swelled by nearly 75%.

There were 20 new deaths and 757 newly reported cases Sunday, but the day before was the state’s deadliest yet — 106 new fatalities — and many counties did not issue updates. As of Sunday evening, there were 31,511 confirmed cases in the state, with more than 6,400 in the Bay Area, while the death toll stood at 1,176 — 199 in the Bay Area.

The number of hospitalizations, however, has been on a consistent downward trend. On Saturday, the most recent day for which data was available, there were 3,196 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and 1,163 in intensive care units, both slightly down from the previous day.

In the Bay Area, the number of patients in acute hospital beds, as well as ICU beds, is lower this Monday than it was a week ago. In the Bay Area’s five most-populous counties — San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa — there were nearly 25% fewer patients hospitalized and nearly 10% fewer in ICUs than the past Monday.

A model from the University of Washington likes what it sees out of California, but reporting delays over the weekend could result in a spike in cases and deaths reported Monday. The UW researchers believe the state is past its peak and could be one of the first in the country to begin to safely reopen by the week of May 18.

In its latest update, the UW model slightly increased its projected number of deaths the state will experience, from 1,483 to 1,658, but continued to project April 16, four days ago, as the day on which the state will report its most deaths. California could fall below 1 prevalent case per 1 million by mid-May, on track to begin easing social distancing measures the week of May 18.

Few states are on a faster track to reopen than California, according to the model. Its May 18 timeline aligns with Washington and Nevada, for example, but is a week behind Alaska and Idaho. There are 15 states that will need to remain locked down beyond the first week of June, according to the model.

Even when California and other state begin to ease restrictions, the model is counting on “robust containment strategies” in those states that includes “widely available testing, contact tracing and case-based isolation (and) restricting mass gatherings.”


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