Perhaps no state has faced more ups and downs during the pandemic than California.New York Times Coronavirus Briefing, December 1, 2020
In the spring, California had some of the earliest outbreaks and was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order. By summer, many Californians thought the worst was behind them, only to see an explosion of cases at the end of June. The number of infections dropped, then plateaued, before skyrocketing again this fall.
Now California is experiencing the largest surge since the beginning of the pandemic with an average of nearly 15,000 new cases a day.
Despite already having some of the most restrictive virus measures in the country, Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday that the state might have to take “drastic action” to slow the spread of the virus, including full stay-at-home orders, which could come within the next couple of days.
Already, 99 percent of residents are living under an overnight curfew that bars them from leaving their homes for nonessential trips after 10 p.m. Los Angeles recently went further and banned gatherings with other households, while a ban on contact sports in Santa Clara County has forced the San Francisco 49ers to play home games in Arizona.
Still, the numbers continue to soar. Governor Newsom warned that with so many sick patients, intensive care units could be overloaded by the middle of December, and its hospitals could be dangerously close to full by Christmas. The state is also facing a shortage of nurses.
As my colleagues Thomas Fuller and Manny Fernandez report, despite its size and economic power, California has one of the nation’s lowest number of hospital beds relative to its population, with just 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. California has one-third the number of beds per capita of, for example, Poland, and only two states have fewer beds for residents, Washington and Oregon.
With the pandemic raging across the country, California may not be able to rely on other states for its disaster planning, as it did when thousands of firefighters traveled to put out its mega-fires.
“You have to think of this as a natural disaster, like an earthquake — there’s a lot of need for hospitalization,” said George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco. “But the difference here is that it’s happening across the country. We can’t send people to Reno, Phoenix or Tucson. We’re stuck.”