Editor’s note: Will reopening lead to local COVID-19 outbreaks? California public health has a new way to check.
The protests demanding justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence have overshadowed COVID-19—and for very good reasons. This may indeed be a historic moment for long-overdue progress toward racial equality.
On Tuesday, Sacramento County public health warned of what it called a “drastic increase” from eight COVID-19 patients in the hospital and six in the ICU on May 27 to 33 hospitalized and 14 in the ICU.
“These numbers are very concerning, particularly as sectors of the economy continue to reopen and restrictions are relaxed,” the agency said.
It said the majority of the new hospitalizations emerged from private gatherings of family and friends. “We understand that people want to be sociable, but we ask that people be sensible—continue to social distance from each other, practice safe hygiene, stay isolated if you are sick and take responsibility for your own health and the health of our community,” the agency said.
So state public health officials picked a good time to let residents see for themselves if their counties are backsliding dangerously as they loosen stay-at-home orders.
A new county data monitoring chart highlights key numbers that would give an early warning of a COVID-19 resurgence.
The categories are: elevated disease transmission, as measured by the number of tests being done daily and the rate of positive tests; the change in COVID-19 hospitalizations; and limited hospital capacity, based on available ICU beds and ventilators.
On the chart, a check mark indicates that all is good, while numbers in blue flag a potential problem.
On Tuesday, Sacramento County got its first worrisome number on the chart: a 58% increase in the three-day average of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Overall, nine of California’s 58 counties had numbers flagged in blue.
“The state will work closely with county health officials to more effectively target the public health response to local outbreaks,” says the state Department of Public Health. “This will include identifying the drivers of increased transmission, reviewing strategies, discussing additional steps that can be taken (testing, contact tracing, infection control), discussing gaps in resources, and reviewing local containment measures.
“If a county is not able to address a localized outbreak it should consider reinstituting sector limitations or more general Stay-at-Home provisions,” the statement adds.
Coronavirus cases are already trending up in California and other states that are reopening. But is it really politically possible for local officials to lock down again, even if there’s a new spike in deaths?
It will be extremely difficult. But officials may have no choice if they want to save lives.