A wider reopening of California’s pummeled economy is just around the corner, but recent numbers show the worst of the state’s coronavirus outbreak may not be in the rearview mirror yet.
Even as the state further relaxes stay-at-home restrictions implemented to stymie the spread of the coronavirus — much-missed personal-care industries like nail salons, massage therapists and tattoo parlors will be able to open their doors in some counties starting Friday — the number of confirmed infections continues to hit new highs.
California reported 4,291 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a new single-day record and the first time the state has broken the 4,000 barrier since the pandemic began, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.
Most of those — 2,129 — were in Los Angeles County, which continues to be the epicenter of the Golden State’s outbreak. Health officials said the total, a single-day high for the county, was fueled by a backlog of test results that accounted for roughly 600 of the new cases.
State and county-level health officials have consistently said they expect coronavirus case counts to rise as they lift provisions of the stay-at-home order. Since the disease spreads from person to person, any contact inherently presents some risk of transmission.
Officials have instead pointed to other metrics — such as the number of COVID-19 patients who get so sick that they need to be hospitalized.
While some parts of California are holding up well in that respect, and coronavirus hospitalizations have been relatively flat for the last six weeks statewide, other areas have seen concerning upticks.
A recent Times analysis found that there was an average of 91 people hospitalized in Ventura County with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections last week — the highest such number since early April and a 75% increase from each of the previous two weeks.
Orange County has experienced a 76% jump in coronavirus intensive care unit hospitalizations in the last six weeks, and the eight-county San Joaquin Valley has seen a 45% rise over that same period, data show.
State officials are monitoring particular areas of concern in 10 counties: Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus and Tulare.
In Riverside County, the state says one of the factors fueling elevated disease transmission is “potential transmission at public protests with large numbers of people in close proximity without face coverings.”
Such demonstrations sprang up throughout Southern California and the nation in recent weeks to protest the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck down with his knee.
While a number of health officials have come out in support of the protests — saying racism is the root cause of public health disparities that date back to the nation’s founding — they also urged participants to get tested for coronavirus infection.
The state also cited masks, or the lack thereof, as one of the drivers behind increasing coronavirus hospitalizations in Stanislaus County.
Specifically, state officials pointed to “decreased attention to personal protection measures such as face coverings and social distancing.”
The use of masks to stem the spread of the coronavirus has emerged as an increasingly charged topic as the state reopens. Rules regarding face coverings differ from county to county, with some requiring residents to wear them in public and others only recommending the practice.
The ideological battle has been particularly heated in Orange County, where the health officer resigned after weeks of attacks over her mandatory mask rules. Her replacement walked that back to a strong recommendation last week.
That hasn’t put an end to the dispute, though.
About 25 Orange County union leaders gathered on the steps of the county administration building Tuesday to urge health officials to reinstate the mask order. Their calls were largely drowned out by protesters, though, who crowded around them holding signs and shouting, “Hey hey, ho ho, these masks have got to go.”
Areas that have mask requirements have also seen issues with compliance. A public health warning was issued Monday after unmasked revelers packed into bars and clubs in San Diego County’s Gaslamp Quarter over the weekend.
Times staff writers Hannah Fry, Rong-Gong Lin II, Stephanie Lai, Colleen Shalby and Iris Lee contributed to this report.