Surging coronavirus cases in California prompted a warning on Wednesday from the nation’s most populous county of a possible delay to classroom instruction in public schools next month — a setback Gov. Gavin Newsom said he hopes to avoid by convincing more folks to wear face coverings and avoid gatherings.
Los Angeles County public health officials say, typically, more than 10% of people tested for the herpes virus end up having it, an interest rate not seen since late-April. Given the high number of cases, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said local school officials should prepare for delaying a get back classroom instruction.
“With the uncertainty that we face right now in our county, everyone needs to have sort of a plan b around the reopening,” she said. “You absolutely would not want to open a sector when you thought the result of reopening could be an explosion of outbreaks within that sector.”
President Donald Trump weighed in on Wednesday, threatening to withhold federal money from school districts should they don’t open their doors for the brand new school year in the fall.
Gov. Gavin Newsom dismissed that threat, saying school districts will decide for themselves whether it is safe to open. But that he said those decisions depends on whether people can slow the spread of the virus by changing their behavior.
“I would like to think that we have the capacity to make better decisions in the next few weeks where we don’t have to make the decision to delay the school year,” said Newsom, the daddy of four young children who has echoed other parents’ frustration at having to manage schooling in the home during the pandemic.
School districts over the state have now been grappling with how to safely reopen in the fall. Some districts are offering multiple options, with parents choosing between in-person instruction or continuing with virtual learning at home — or a mix of the two.
San Francisco health officials on Wednesday issued directions on how to safely reopen city schools offering requiring all K-12 students to wear masks and for teenagers to stay six feet apart. They recommend staggered times for arrival, recess, lunch and dismissal for middle and students. Plus, they do say schools should ban choir and playing the trumpet, clarinet or any other instrument that spreads droplets of saliva, plus any sport where students can’t stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.
“We know that for our very youngest children, physical distance for the entire day is very tough, not practical for social-emotional learning and just very difficult to enforce,” said Jeanne Lee, medical director for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Figuring out just how to open schools will be a big piece of restarting California’s economy. After shutting down lots of the state in March to slow the spread of the disease, Newsom moved quickly to allow companies to reopen in the spring once coronavirus cases stabilized. But since then, their state has seen an explosion of new cases which have led to a 44% upsurge in coronavirus related hospitalizations within the last two weeks.
Newsom has ordered individuals to wear face coverings in public areas both indoors and outdoors. The state is closely monitoring new cases, placing counties on a watch list if their numbers are too high. Any county on the list for three consecutive days must shutter bars and close indoor operations at restaurants, concert halls, wineries, zoos, museums, card rooms and family entertainment centers like bowling alleys, miniature golf and arcades.
The list already includes the biggest counties in Southern California, and Wednesday the Newsom administration added three more counties to the list: Napa, San Benito and Yolo. Yuba and Sutter counties be prepared to be included with the list on Thursday, according to Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Ngoc-Phuong Luu.
On average, California is testing 106,000 people per day, up from the two,000 each day average in April. The increase has led to shortages of equipment, forcing the closure of some testing sites and delaying the outcome for days.
Los Angeles County public health officials say all testing slots are booked for the rest of the week. Demand is indeed high in San Diego County it can take as much as 10 days just to schedule a test. In San Bernardino County, public health officials have limited the amount of tests as a result of supply shortages.
“There have been concerns about testing supply shortages throughout the state and within our county,” said Corwin Porter, San Bernardino County’s interim public health director.
The Ebb and Flow of New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths
The graphs below illustrate the distribution of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. While New York accounted for the lion’s share of new cases and deaths in March and April, its numbers have declined in May as some states have increased. Hover or tap to see new daily cases and deaths across the country. States with the most are ordered top to bottom.
Newsom said that he was pleased with how the state has bulked up its testing capacity. But that he said that he plans to announce new testing protocols in the coming days to make the state “much smarter” in how it tests people “in terms of who we are targeting” and “testing people on a more consistent basis so it’s not just about the numbers.”
For a lot of people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as for example fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and folks with existing health problems, it may cause worse illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Associated Press reporters Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco and Brian Melley and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed for this report.