SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California’s governor, the first to impose a statewide lockdown at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, said on Monday he may renew a stay-at-home order in the coming days to counter surging COVID-19 infections that threaten to overwhelm hospital intensive care units.
Governor Gavin Newsom cited medical data showing ICU admissions are on track to exceed statewide capacity by mid-December unless public health policies and social behavior patterns are altered to curb a rapidly spreading virus.
“The red flags are flying,” Newsom told reporters in an online briefing. “If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic, action.”
Last week, Newsom instituted a curfew barring indoor social gatherings and other non-essential activities across most of the state between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily.
The curfew and other constraints placed on economic activity across California, the most populous U.S. state with some 40 million people, already represent some of the country’s most stringent COVID-19 public health measures.
Newsom said the next round of restrictions may include an order similar to California’s first-in-the-nation statewide stay-home mandate, imposed in March.
Speaking from his suburban Sacramento home, where he is under quarantine with family after his children were exposed to someone who tested positive, the governor indicated a decision was likely “in a day or two.”
Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous, has already taken such a step, implementing a ban that began Monday on nearly all social gatherings of people from more than one household, around the clock, for the next three weeks.
The governor and the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said they are most concerned about soaring COVID-19 infections that are driving ICU admissions to perilously high levels in recent days.
California reported one of the nation’s sharpest increases in caseloads last week, up by more than 99,000 infections, or 31%, and second only to a 91% spike in Washington state.
Roughly 12% of daily new COVID-19 cases in California end up requiring hospitalization within two weeks of infection, with as many as 30% of patients eventually requiring admission to ICU wards or respiratory support, they said.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have climbed nearly 90% over the past two weeks, and three-fourths of ICU beds statewide are occupied. Those figures do not reflect a wave of additional cases expected to emerge from increased travel and indoor gatherings surrounding the holiday season, the governor said.
Projections show hospital ICU wards reaching 112% of capacity by mid-December statewide - and 134% of capacity in northern California by early next month - absent further measures to slow the contagion.
“What we worry about this time is specifically the ICUs,” said Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary. “Even when we may be using only 70% of our hospital beds in the state, we’re using over 100% of the projected capacity in ICU space.”
To date, California has documented more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and over 19,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler
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