What Is Happening With the Virus in California? For Now, Many Mixed Signals

Monday: Hospital capacity is increasing in some areas. The vaccine rollout is still chaotic.

People waiting in line at a super vaccination station set up in an empty department store in Chula Vista.
People waiting in line at a super vaccination station set up in an empty department store in Chula Vista. Mike Blake/Mike Blake

New York Times, By Jill Cowan, 1/25/21, 9:07 a.m. ET  (This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)

Good morning.

If you’re confused about the state of the virus in California, you’re not alone.

While California’s overall case numbers have been on the decline, hospitals in Southern California are still overwhelmed and experts worry that new variants of the virus — including one that researchers recently found in more than half of samples collected in Los Angeles — could threaten progress curbing Covid-19’s rampant spread.

[Compare coronavirus case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths across California with this map.]

In the Bay Area, intensive care unit capacity has risen to 23.4 percent, according to the state as of Sunday — well above the 15 percent threshold that triggered the stay-at-home order for the region. Yet the Sacramento area has just 11.9 percent intensive care unit capacity, and was allowed to exit the strict order more than a week ago.

Although The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Saturday that officials in the region were feeling hopeful that the order would be lifted soon, the state’s department of public health reported on Sunday that the Bay Area wasn’t eligible to have restrictions loosened based on its projections.

[See how full hospital intensive care units are near you.]

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to make an announcement about lifting some restrictions in the state on Monday.

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Newsom’s administration has refused to disclose key data that would help explain the difference in approaches between the Bay Area and Sacramento.

In any case, the state hinted in a news release on Sunday that Sacramento may be required to re-enter the stay-at-home order, which would force many businesses to shut back down. (We can expect to get an update from state officials in coming days.)

And even after President Biden unveiled what experts have long said is a desperately needed national strategy for finally controlling the pandemic, there are still major hurdles in the vaccine rollout, which in California has contributed to continuing chaos, in which vaccine eligibility rules have been implemented differently county by county.

As CalMatters reported, the state quietly rolled out a promised clearinghouse website to help people find vaccination appointments. But it’s still a work in progress.

[Track the vaccine rollout in California and other states.]

Read more:

  • One of the biggest contributors to Los Angeles County’s surge is its overcrowded housing. [The New York Times]

  • Mandatory masking for interstate travel. Ramped up manufacturing. Here’s more of what’s in President Biden’s pandemic executive orders. [The New York Times]

  • Experts believe as many as thousands of coronavirus deaths have not been counted in San Bernardino County, giving a false sense of the disease’s deadliness. [The Riverside Press-Enterprise]

  • Fear over testing positive for Covid-19 and not being able to return to work, as well as worries over the vaccines, are hurting the eastern Coachella Valley. [The Desert Sun]

  • A coalition of more than 50 Bay Area restaurants and wineries sued Governor Newsom over the state’s outdoor dining ban. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Getting millions of people vaccinated will help reduce infections. But vaccines alone won’t end the pandemic. [The New York Times]

  • The governor’s $2 billion school reopening fund could actually cost districts money. [CalMatters]