Screenshot with Gavin Newsom, ASL interpreter and color-coded California map. Text reads: Your action saves lives; purple: 10 counties; red: 20 counties; orange: 19 counties; yellow: 9 counties; wear a mask. Slow the spread.

Newsom Talks Coronavirus Surge: ‘People Are Letting Their Guard Down’

Screenshot with Gavin Newsom, ASL interpreter and color-coded California map. Text reads: Your action saves lives; purple: 10 counties; red: 20 counties; orange: 19 counties; yellow: 9 counties; wear a mask. Slow the spread.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says COVID-19 numbers are going back up “for obvious reasons,” warning that Californians need to recommit to mask wearing and social distancing. (Screenshot captured by Edward Booth / Richmond Pulse)

By Edward Booth

Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the ongoing rise of COVID-19 cases in California at a press conference Monday, emphasizing a recommitment to the safety measures of mask-wearing and social distancing as winter approaches.

Newsom said that the 14-day coronavirus positivity rate for California stands at 3.7%, over a 1% increase from the 2.5% rate recorded Oct. 19. California has averaged 5,889 cases per day for the past week, Newsom said. On Sunday, 7,212 new cases were recorded — a familiar amount four to six weeks ago, Newsom said, but one that hasn’t been seen since the state’s daily average dropped below 3,000 in early October.

Newsom said he anticipated more counties will be moving backward than forward Tuesday on the state’s color-coded reopening system, reintroducing greater safety restrictions in the affected counties. Contra Costa County is on pace to downgrade to the more restrictive red tier, according to the county dashboard.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said that county public health officers are seeing increased transmission in various areas including essential workplaces, places of worship and restaurants. But consistently, in each area seeing increases, the officers say private household gatherings are a major source of spread, Ghaly said.

“Our guard may have come down but we have to put it right back up,” Ghaly said. “These masks, even with loved ones we haven’t seen in a while, are really important. That sense that we’re safe because we know someone is not the case with COVID.”

Newsom added that people are becoming less careful with safety measures but said they should double down to help lessen the spread of COVID-19.

“[The rise in cases is] for obvious reasons,” Newsom said. “People are letting their guard down. They’re taking their masks off. They’re starting to get together outside of their household cohorts. They’re starting to see businesses reopen, and we’re starting again to see more people mixing. As it gets colder, we’ll see more still.”

In terms of case rates, California is still doing better than most other states. Over the past week, there has been an average of 111,175 daily cases nationwide, an increase of 59% from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times. There were at least 103,657 new cases Sunday across the country.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in California have increased by 28.6% over the past 14 days, to 3,001 patients, Newsom said. This represents about 4% of the state’s hospital capacity. The percentage of COVID-19 intensive care unit patients rose 27.3% over the same period, to 839 ICU admissions, about 11% of the state’s ICU bed capacity.

Daily testing in California is rising as well. California is averaging 143,711 COVID-19 tests per day over the past week, Newsom said. On Sunday, the state recorded just below 194,000 tests, he said, close to a record.

“We are not ashamed of testing people,” Newsom said. “Quite the contrary, we want to see more tests.”

Newsom said that as testing increases, the number of recorded cases will likely increase as well. This is why the positivity rate, as opposed to the number of cases, is important, as it can show that COVID-19 is spreading without being affected by the increasing number of tests, he said.

“[Positivity rates] give us a sense of what’s really happening,” Newsom said.

Newsom also addressed the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine earlier Monday by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which, according to an analysis by the company, was found to be 90% effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers with no evidence of a prior COVID-19 infection.

The governor said the vaccine was good news, particularly the reported efficacy of it. Newsom cautioned, however, that mass distribution of the vaccine is “many, many months off.” He added that people should look at the reality of the second wave that’s taking shape across the United States and continue to wear a mask, socially distance, and not let their guard down.

“I am concerned, truthfully, that we may get over-exuberant because now we believe we have a safe and effective vaccine that is available and people may go back to their original form. That would be a terrible mistake,” Newsom said. “A vaccine will come, but it’s not going to come soon enough.”

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