The deadly spread of COVID-19 in the past four weeks put California and Goleta officials in the same state of mind: Stop it in its tracks. Goleta’s City Council on Tuesday recognized the need to protect its citizens at all costs, even putting the play equipment in parks off-limits. Forty-eight hours later, Governor Gavin Newsom foresaw a viral “attack rate” affecting 56 percent of Californians if nothing were done. He shut down the state.
If Californians continued with life as usual, the governor stated, not only would an alarming number of the nation-state’s population of 40 million get sick, but the sickest would overwhelm the medical-care system. Currently, hospitals have about 78,000 beds and the personnel to take care of the patients, said Newsom.
Then, perhaps taking advantage of reporters’ inability to do math on the fly, Newsom said that if 20 percent of those struck by coronavirus end up in the hospital, 19,543 people — or a “surge” of patients — would exceed hospitals’ capacity by 10,000 beds. (The state Public Health Department referred reporters back to Newsom’s press conference video and did not respond to questions about the inaccurate numbers.)
The true calculation is a lack of 4.4 million hospital beds, if Newsom’s percentages hold. Either way, the need to “bend the curve,” or bring the number of potential patients way down by telling all residents to stay home, is clear.
To add 750 beds, the state was reopening two hospitals, Newsom continued: Seton Hospital in Daly City and one in Southern California. His team was in negotiations with hotels and motels. The University of California and State University systems were finding appropriate dormitories to repurpose. Military field units or mobile medical hospitals were being discussed with President Trump and Vice President Pence. Retired doctors were being asked to return to service.
The lack of coronavirus test kits nationwide means that public health officials are flying blind. No one knows who’s infected and who’s not. No one knows who should be quarantined and who should not.
Goleta Councilmember Kyle Richards made an emphatic request to his colleagues to act before it’s too late. He mentioned the experience with the epidemic in Italy, where the numbers of those dying of COVID-19 are skyrocketing, and, supported by Mayor Paula Perotte on the phone, he urged his colleagues to adopt the emergency measure that day and not wait.
Hearing that the City of Santa Barbara was adopting similar measures to close bars and gyms and to limit restaurants to takeout and delivery, the Goleta council approved its emergency order unanimously. They added that while parks were open, the play equipment too easily held the virus and was therefore closed. Evictions of residential and commercial tenants for nonpayment of rent were also halted for 60 days.
One measure of the economic toll the coronavirus was already exacting was visible in state unemployment numbers. Newsom said state workers in nonessential jobs were being re-tasked, some to the Employment Development Department. From an average of 2,000 per day, claims for unemployment insurance jumped to 40,000 on Monday and 80,000 on Wednesday.
The lockdown ordered by San Francisco Mayor London Breed was a template, Newsom said, to know what was allowed. Grocery stores remained open as were places selling medical necessities. You could still walk the dog, he said, and pick up food at distribution centers or restaurants. “Use common sense,” he said, “and socially distance yourselves.”
Other positive news the governor held out was California company Gilead’s research into a vaccine and ongoing antiviral treatment courses at the five UC medical centers. The national stockpile of protective gear would send “hundreds of thousands” of gloves and facemasks to California, augmenting the 10 million still in storage in the state. Talks were ongoing with manufacturers on converting to ventilator production — needed for future pneumonia patients. At the governor’s call with Trump and Pence, White House response coordinator Dr. Deborah Brix stated anesthesia ventilators could be converted to serve the purpose as well.
“It’s an order without a specific deadline,” Newsom acknowledged on Thursday of his shelter-in-place mandate. “We couldn’t live with a deadline we couldn’t believe in. If we said two weeks, it gives people a false sense of what to expect.” Eight weeks for this virus in particular, the governor indicated, but not many, many months.
Clarification: Regarding eviction, tenants must write to their landlord and demonstrate a lack of funds due to coronavirus. Those include sickness, quarantine, lay-offs, medical expenses, child-care costs, and losses of income in full or part. A landlord may seek payment of the rent after the local emergency expires, and the tenant is obliged to pay within six months. Goleta’s full order can be found here.