Coronavirus updates: 2,400 dead in California; Newsom, rural counties still clashing

Coronavirus updates: 2,400 dead in California; Newsom, rural counties still clashing

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Coronavirus update

California is moving gradually in the reopening process, letting some businesses reopen for curbside pickup as early as Friday, but there is still tension between Gov. Gavin Newsom and a handful of rural counties that reopened larger parts of their economy early.

Yuba and Sutter counties on Monday allowed a wide range of businesses, from restaurants to gyms to tattoo parlors, to open following weeks of shutdown under Newsom's statewide stay-at-home order, issued March 19 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They reopened under a new directive from bi-county public health officer Dr. Phuong Luu.

The move directly defied Newsom's order, and during a Tuesday news briefing the governor called the decision to open personal service businesses like hair salons a "big mistake."

"They're putting the public at risk, they're putting our progress at risk," Newsom said. "They put those businesses at risk, not only the health of those communities at risk."

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 73,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus, with at least 2,412 of those fatalities coming in California, Newsom said during his daily news conference.

The state saw 95 deaths in the preceding 24 hours, Newsom said, among the highest single-day increases since the pandemic began. The state is approaching 60,000 lab-confirmed cases.

Newsom last week laid out his four-phase plan for the gradual lifting of his stay-at-home order. After Phase 1, which was the full order in effect, Phase 2 would see low-risk businesses including retail, manufacturing, offices and some public gathering spaces like shopping malls reopen, with significant modifications. Phase 3 includes personal service businesses that carry higher risk of virus transmission due to close contact with customers, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors, fitness centers, movie theaters and churches. Phase 4 represents the end of the stay-at-home order.

Newsom said Tuesday the state is not yet ready for Phase 3, the reopening of "higher-risk environments."

"I would just encourage them to do the right thing," Newsom said in response to Yuba and Sutter counties' early reopening.

Some local leaders, especially in the northern reaches and more rural parts of California, have argued their economies and small business owners have been financially decimated by a shutdown order that has no set end date, and that Newsom and the state should allow for a region-by-region approach.

"In the north state, our communities have met the scientific criteria for re-opening and we're not going to wait for San Francisco and Los Angeles in order to reopen," Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said in a Monday statement. "If this is truly about science and not politics, the governor shouldn't push back against local public health officers who are moving forward with their phased re-opening plans."

Newsom announced earlier this week that counties with low infection rates may be able to move further along in Phase 2 of reopenings sooner than those with bigger case numbers. The state on Thursday will share guidelines for counties to institute their own self-certified reopening plans with approval of their own public health officials, but Newsom warned the state will intervene if those that reopen early see a spike in infections.

More than half of the state's deaths at over 1,300, and almost half of its total confirmed cases at just shy of 28,000, have come in Los Angeles County, which makes up about one-quarter of California's population.

Free drive-through testing in Sacramento for those without symptoms

Sacramento County announced Wednesday morning that drive-thru coronavirus testing in the parking lot at Cal Expo will now be available for residents who are asymptomatic.

Those interested must still fill out a form online through the Verily website, making an appointment at https://www.projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19/eligibility.

The site had previously accepted only those experiencing mild symptoms. It is still not intended for those with severe symptoms, who should instead seek immediate medical care.

Participants remain in their cars while the tester takes a swab sample from the nose. The process at Cal Expo takes about 10 minutes.

Newsom said Wednesday 800,000 Californians have been tested, but there's still an "enormous" amount of work to do, with "testing deserts" still found throughout the state. The governor said the state is averaging 30,000 tests a day, about half of the 60,000 he has mentioned as a daily goal.

Cost of testing: California paid Verily $3.4 million for 10,000 tests

California paid an average of almost $340 per COVID-19 test over the first month of its partnership with Verily Life Sciences, a sister company of Google.

Verily charged the state about $3.4 million for the roughly 10,000 tests it conducted from mid-March through mid-April, according to the state's contract with Verily, obtained by The Bee through a Public Records Act request.

The cost varied dramatically by county, with the highest prices in San Mateo, where each test cost $819. In Sacramento, Verily charged the state more than half a million dollars to conduct 3,191 tests for a $165 per-test cost.

Cost varies based on what services and equipment Verily is providing at each site, said company spokeswoman Carloyn Wang.

High rent at the San Mateo testing site and additional costs associated with launching the program drove up the prices, according to Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for California's Health and Human Services Agency. San Mateo County has since taken on the rental fee for the site.

"As this testing program was brought to scale, costs have decreased," Folmar wrote in an email to The Bee. "The state entered into its partnership with Verily at a time when testing across the country was scarce, and we are grateful for the initial development work on the testing platform that Verily did without charge."

Under the second phase of the state's agreement with the company, which runs from mid-April to June 17, the cost-per-test will drop to an estimated $127. At that price, Newsom's recently stated goal of 60,000 tests per day would cost the state more than $50 million a week.

Verily is just one of several vendors the state is contracting with to provide testing. The rates California is paying Verily are "in line with industry norms," Folmar said.

Through Verily's online screening platform, potential patients take a survey to see if they qualify for testing in their area. The platform then coordinates the entire testing process, including scheduling appointments, sending samples to the lab and processing the results.

In its first month, Verily set up sites in seven counties, including a drive-thru testing site at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Verily contracted with 20 different vendors to provide everything from security to safety goggles, according to the initial contract.

Verily itself collected only $30 per test, a "small, small fraction" of what it spent developing and managing the program, Wang said.

California doctors stressed despite increase in PPE

COVID-19 appears to be introducing high levels of anxiety among critical care physicians, emergency medicine doctors and their families that few other diseases have matched.

Doctors expressed greater confidence in the availability of testing and personal protective equipment in a recent poll regarding COVID-19, but their personal stress levels remain high.

The California Health Care Foundation has been working since March with physician market-research firm Truth on Call to survey 150 front-line physicians every two weeks, said Kristof Stremikis, director of market analysis and insight at the foundation.

April 1 survey results showed 66 percent of physicians expected future shortages of PPE, the foundation reported, but Friday's survey results showed that only 21 percent rated that as a worry. And only 12 percent of doctors expressed worry about the availability of ICU space and ventilators in results released Friday, compared with 62 percent a month earlier.

And, four weeks ago, half the doctors polled worried there wouldn't be enough staff to meet the surge in COVID-19 cases, but that concern now only plagues 9 percent of the doctors in the CHCF poll.

But in the most recent survey, more physicians indicated their stress levels were about the same or higher.

"If worries around PPE, if worries around space, if worries around workforce over the next month have fallen, why would your stress level increase or stay the same?" Stremikis said. "We don't know the answer to that. I think it's fair to say this pandemic is unprecedented."

Concerns about the highly contagious virus are impacting doctors' home lives, too. Some spouses and their children started living in separate quarters as soon as their partners began treating COVID-19 patients, said education policy researcher Irina Okhremtchouk. They've instituted decontamination processes and avoid physical contact.

Because many hospitals have restricted visitors for COVID-19 patients, medical personnel also now find themselves having to minister to patients in their last days or setting up video teleconferences to allow loved ones to say goodbye.

What can open Friday? What can't?

Newsom and state health officials during Monday and Tuesday's news briefings said businesses that may open on a curbside-pickup-only basis this Friday include things like bookstores, sporting goods stores, clothing retailers and florists.

What it won't include, state Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell said Monday, are offices in which remote work is possible, in-restaurant dining and shopping malls.

Newsom promised more detailed guidelines to come Thursday.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: 75 dead, over 1,500 infected

The four counties have seen a combined total of 75 COVID-19 fatalities among just over 1,500 confirmed positive cases.

Sacramento County health officials have reported 1,142 cases of coronavirus and 47 deaths, last updated 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. Nine new infections were reported Wednesday morning and six on Tuesday, with no change to the fatality total after five new deaths were disclosed Monday. Of the deaths, 24 have come in the city of Sacramento, five in Citrus Heights, three in Elk Grove, three in Rancho Cordova, two in Folsom and 10 in unincorporated parts of the county.

Yolo County reported another person had died from COVID-19, officials said Wednesday afternoon, raising the death toll in the county to 20. Fourteen of those deaths have been reported at Stollwood Convalescent Hospital in Woodland, including at least one employee of the skilled nursing facility.

Placer County has confirmed 163 cases and eight deaths, last updated 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. The infection total increased by one over the previous update, and no new fatalities have been reported since April 15.

El Dorado County has confirmed 54 COVID-19 cases, reporting an additional case Wednesday afternoon. The county has not reported any deaths related to the coronavirus so far. Nineteen have been infected in El Dorado Hills, and 20 have been infected in the Lake Tahoe region.

World numbers: Global death toll surpasses 260,000

The coronavirus had infected more than 3.74 million people worldwide as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a data map maintained by Johns Hopkins University. More than 263,000 people have died worldwide, more than a quarter of them -- 73,000 -- in the United States.

Within the U.S., New York remains the epicenter, having reported more than 25,000 COVID-19 deaths. New Jersey has surpassed a death toll of 8,500; More than 4,200 have died in Massachusetts and Michigan each; More than 3,300 have died in Pennsylvania. Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, California, Connecticut and Illinois have each reported between about 1,000 and 2,800 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

After the U.S., the United Kingdom has overtaken Italy for the second-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide; both of the European nations have reported about 30,000 dead. Spain and France have each reported another roughly 25,000 deaths.

Belgium has reported 8,400 fatalities, Brazil has seen over 8,000 die, Germany is close to 7,000, another 6,400 have died in Iran and the Netherlands reports 5,200 dead. China, the original epicenter for the virus, has reported only about 4,600 coronavirus fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins.

What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within 6 feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The CDC says it's possible to catch the disease COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, "but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

Symptoms of the virus that causes COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure. Most develop only mild symptoms, but some people develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The disease is especially dangerous to the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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