COVID-19 State Policy Update - 08.03.20

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TodayMonday, August 3, 2020, Governor Newsom provided a live update on the COVID-19 pandemic. Today marks a significant and unfortunate milestone, as California is now the first state in the nation to top 500,000 cases of COVID-19. The Governor began with referencing his last presentation and the focus on eight counties in the Central Valley where COVID-19 rates are skyrocketing with positivity rates ranging from 10.7% in Fresno County to 17.7% in Tulare County. He noted the effort to reverse the trend in the Central Valley requires an intensive effort, much like the one employed in Imperial County where the positivity rate grew to 30.3%, as the county’s hospital system was overwhelmed, and the entire healthcare system severely stressed.

The approach to reverse the increasing COVID rates in Imperial County involved deploying a strike team, which included a number of state and federal healthcare professionals experienced in dealing with such medical emergencies, including professionals from the 190-member Department of Defense healthcare team. The Strike Team implemented a number of new protocols to decompress the hospital system, including moving 650 patients to neighboring communities and some as far away as Northern California hospitals. The Strike Team’s focus was Response and Prevention.

Response efforts included:

  • Identifying local needs in the zone with resources and technical support to bolster healthcare for active cases.

Prevention focused on stopping new infections:

  • Focus on essential workplaces and workers
  • Targeted culturally competent messaging about COVID-19 safety
  • Additional sector closures stop community spread

The combined efforts were about filling in the gaps:

  • Personnel
  • PPE
  • Public education and outreach
  • Building hospital capacity
  • Closing sectors where community spread was high.

The work paid off, as the positivity rate declined from 30.3% to 11.2%, which is still too high, but the reduction is significant and speaks to the success of the Strike Team. In the end, the Strike Team succeeded in Imperial County by working with state and local officials and by taking advantage of federal resources and  being vigilant. The successful work in Imperial County is now referred to as the Imperial Model.”

Central California

The Governor noted he has directed staff to employ tactics used in the Imperial Model to the challenges that have emerged in the eight Central Valley counties where COVID rates are trending up significantly and disproportionately among Latino and essential workers from agricultural businesses, hospitality, and retail. He stated there is still much work to be done in Imperial County and that while the eight Central Valley counties do not have rates as high as Imperial County, he believes it is important to move quickly to reverse the upward disease trend before they are as high as those in Imperial County.

The Central Valley partnership will fill in the gaps:

  • Collectively working with counties to assess local data
  • Identify specific gaps in response
  • Validating gaps with other community partners
  • Identifying federal, state, and local resources to fill in gaps.

He also stated that five of the eight federal Department of Defense medical teams are now deployed in the Central Valley. Also, the Governor cited partnerships with businesses, community-based organizations, and non-profits as being essential to contributing to closing the gaps and addressing the needs in the Central Valley to conduct effective disease investigation, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine.

The Governor referred to his announcement last week of new safety protections for employees and employers, including a program titled Housing for the Harvest, which provides temporary housing for agricultural workers who test positive for the virus (Read more here). He also reminded the audience of the $52 million-dollar grant received from the Centers for Disease Control and offered a special thank you to the Sierra Foundation for securing an additional $6.5 million to help supplement the programs that provide financial assistance for rent, food, and utilities for essential workers, vulnerable families and individuals, and the non-profits that support them.

As he noted in his presentation on Monday, July 27, the eight Central Valley Counties where the infection rates are much higher than the state average (read more here), include Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, and Tulare. Additionally, the Latino population is much larger in these counties and they are disproportionately impacted by the virus largely because they are over-represented in the essential worker categories, noted earlier.

New Unemployment Strike Team

To further aid Californians struggling financially and take on the backlog of unemployment claims at the Department of Employment Development, the Governor, on Wednesday, July 29, announced the formation of an Unemployment Strike Team deployed to modernize information technology programs and transform the customer experience for the Unemployment Development Department. In announcing the formation of the Strike Team, the Governor stated, There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” said Governor Newsom. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the Department in that direction” (read more here).

The Numbers

Governor Newsom told the audience there is reason to be hopeful regarding infection rates in California, as some areas are stabilizing and other trending downward, including parts of Southern California.

5,739 positive cases in California with a 7-day average of 7,764, which is down 21.2%  from the previous 7-day average, which as he noted was north of 9,000 last week. Regarding testing, the Governor stated the 7-day average for daily testing is 126,874. He noted yesterday, August 2, a total of 149,000 tests were conducted across the state.

Additionally, the state’s positivity rate is also trending down, as it has gone from a high of 7.9% last week to 7.5%  today—still too high the Governor noted, but an improvement, nonetheless. 

The Governor shared that while the number of COVID-19 positive patients is up by 21 or 0.3%, the state’s 14-day rolling average is 6,800, which represents a 10% decrease. The Governor noted this is significant, as just a couple of weeks ago the 14-day average increase was 50%. Currently, the state is using 9% of the total hospital capacity. The ICU rate is also trending downward with a 14-day rolling average of 1,993, which represents a 5% decrease. Currently, there are 1,909 COVID-19 positive patients in ICUs throughout the state.

Governor Newsom stated that these numbers are encouraging, but California is not out of the woods, “as very quickly these numbers could reverse and begin trending upward.” He also noted that the numbers do not reflect the reality of what is happening in the Central Valley. He stated it will take several weeks of lower numbers to establish a true downward trend, and the fact is the death rate is still trending upward with a 14-day average of 120.

State Monitoring List

There are now 38 counties on the Monitoring List, with the addition of San Mateo County, which represents approximately 95% of the state’s population (more about the Monitoring List here). He told the audience there are more sectorial restrictions in these counties, especially as it relates to opening the schools. The goal, he stated, is to have these counties off of the Monitoring List for two weeks before considering modifications to guidelines. The requirement to be off of the Monitoring List for 14-days is foundational to considering modifications to distance learning.

Guidance for Schools

The Guide for Schools is published on the Department of Public Health website (read more here). On July 17, 2020, updated guidance was released for childcare, day camps, and schools (read more here). The Governor stated that updated guidance, including the waiver process, would be released “this afternoon.” You can read the waiver procedure here.

Before opening up to questions from reporters, the Governor reminded the audience that “community spread is occurring in peoples’ backyards, front yards and living rooms, as people forget the danger of this virus and mix with extended family and friends, which leads to community spread. If you live with someone who is positive for COVID-19, remember to not share items with them, sanitize common items you touch often, wear a mask, and keep your distance from the person who is positive.” He concluded his remarks with a thank you to businesses for their compliance and efforts to reduce community spread. He had a message for businesses that continue to defy the mask mandate and state guidance for their business sector. He noted those who do not comply face enforcement action from state agencies charged with ensuring businesses do comply. With that, he opened it up to questions from the media.

Q&A

The first question posed the issue of teachers, in some districts, being ordered to conduct their distance learning from their physical classrooms. The reporter wanted to know if the Governor had a position on this issue. The Governor responded he does not believe anyone should be required to put their life at risk to perform their job. He noted the State Department of Education and the Department of Public Health are working closely and cooperatively with organized labor to reach agreements that protect the health of teachers and students and deliver a valuable learning experience for students.

The next question focused on the issue of evictions and whether there is legislation being considered to help those people. The Governor responded that the Judicial Council order expires on August 14, which applies pressure to come up with a way to help people facing financial stress and struggling to pay their rent or mortgage. He noted he is actively engaged with legislative leadership to see where there is common ground.

The next reporter stated that a number of states are restricting visitors from other states, especially “hot spot” states in an effort to avoid growing positivity rates in their states. The reporter asked the Governor why California has not considered something similar. The Governor responded that he believes California is able to contain the virus without taking such action; however, he did say if there comes a time where he believes such action is necessary, he will do so.

The next question focused on businesses struggling to survive and the reporter asked what else the state might do to help them. The Governor responded there are a number of federal and state programs to assist small  businesses, such as SBA and PPP programs. He also noted that those businesses that fall through the cracks because they do not qualify for those or other programs, the state’s I-Bank program provides micro-loans and there is more offered through the Go Biz program. He urged anyone needing assistance because their business is struggling, to go to the COVID-19 website, as there is a suite of resources for small business.

The final reporter asked the Governor what specific measure he is looking for to lift restrictions for those counties on the Monitoring List and what has he learned from other Governors. He responded consistent stabilization/decline in the positivity rate, hospitalizations, and deaths. Regarding contributions from other Governors, Governor Newsom stated there is a robust association of governors who share best practices, resources, and strategies to contain the deadly virus. He also noted there is a weekly call for Governors’ Chiefs of Staff where there are organic and productive conversations and sharing that benefits everyone.

The Governor concluded by reminding everyone to be vigilant in wearing masks, washing their hands, and avoiding mixing with people outside of their home. He thanked everyone for their work to contain the virus and stated he is confident Californians can meet the challenge of beating this deadly disease.

Key milestones and trends – COVID-19 numbers – as of today (8/03/20)

  • ·  9,388 deaths, up by 32 overnight or +0.3%; 7-day total 943 up 11.2%;  14-day 1,694 or up by 22%.
  • ·  514,901 positive cases - up by 5,739 or +1.1%; 7-day total 7,764 or 11.8%; 14-day total 8,812 down by 21.2%.
  • ·  The state’s positivity rate increased once again; the 7-day positivity rate is 6.1%; the 14-day positivity rate is 7%.
  • ·  8,184,696 tests conducted; 1-day total 148,721 up by 1.9%; 14-day up 1,770,158 or 31.5%.
  • o Latinos continue to have the highest percentage of positive cases at 58%; Caucasians 17%; Asians 5%, and Blacks 4%.
  • ·  Hospitalizations for COVID positive is 6,383 up by 21 or 0.3%; 14-day rolling average 14-day rolling average is 6,800.
  • o The majority of hospitalizations are in LA County 1,757; followed by San Bernardino 575; Orange County 555; Riverside 425; Kern 321; San Diego 305; Fresno 295; Sacramento 262; Stanislaus 205; San Joaquin 197; Alameda 194; Santa Clara 185; Contra Costa 101; Tulare 101.
  • ·  ICU – COVID positive patients in ICU is 1,909 down by 31 or 1.6%; the 14-day rolling average is 1,993. The number of suspected COVID-19 in ICU is 160, down by 19 or 10.6%.
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