President Donald Trump on Sunday declared a major disaster in California — at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom — making the state eligible for desperately needed resources to fight the escalating coronavirus pandemic.
The declaration makes the state eligible for a range of federal assistance from emergency aid to unemployment assistance to disaster legal services.
“Unfortunately, California has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Newsom wrote in a letter to Trump on Sunday. “Besides California being home to nearly 40 million people, which itself poses significant logistical issues few other states face, California partnered with the federal government in several extremely complex and challenging repatriation missions, which strained California’s resources and impacted California’s healthcare.”
Although Washington state has confirmed a few hundred more cases than California, the number of hospital beds needed to treat the expected surge in patients is five times more in California, according to Peter Gaynor, the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Santa Clara County — the hardest-hit section of the Bay Area — has about 2,500 hospital beds across all of its hospitals. Of those, only about 300 are currently set up as intensive care units to treat the sickest of patients — and 80% of those are already occupied, according to Paul Lorenz, CEO of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Lorenz said officials anticipate they have the supplies and staffing to increase capacity by turning another 300 beds into those that can treat the most critical patients, and are looking for ways to transition even more.
But, if things get worse, the county’s hospital systems — and all of those across the region — will be hard-pressed to find room.
To some extent, officials say, the responsibility will be on residents to practice proper social distancing and adhere to some of the nation’s strictest stay-at-home orders.
“If, in fact, we’re able to flatten the curve and slow the spread, then our healthcare systems will be able to manage much more effectively,” Lorenz said.
“Our healthcare systems only have a certain level of capacity to serve our community and if we push that to the limit, obviously I think we know what the result is,” he added.
As of Sunday, at least 1,752 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths related to the disease had been confirmed across California.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to set up eight temporary medical facilities across California for a total of 2,000 beds.
Over the weekend, the federal government began setting up one of those facilities in the Santa Clara Convention Center. County officials said the facility will be used to treat less acute patients, such as those recovering from surgery, in order to allow hospitals to focus on patients with more serious medical needs, including those related to coronavirus.
Trump also announced Sunday that the federal government would be covering the cost to deploy the National Guard in California, as is typical in disaster situations. Newsom announced last week that he was deploying the California National Guard to assist with food distribution to those in need during this crisis.
Coronavirus cases continued to climb across the region Sunday, as expected, with all Bay Area counties now reporting cases. San Francisco and Alameda County on Sunday both saw their cases spike overnight to 108 and 106 respectively, and joined San Mateo and Santa Clara counties with totals in the three-digits. Napa County recorded its first two cases, informing residents that the highly contagious disease has spread to their community. And, two senior living communities in Palo Alto reported new cases as well — two residents at the Vi in Palo Alto tested positive and one resident at Lytton Gardens.
Santa Clara County confirmed 39 newly discovered cases and two new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total to 302 cases and ten deaths. The county’s two most recent deaths were a woman in her 40s and a woman in her 60s. Both women had underlying health conditions, according to county officials.
After the first weekend under a statewide stay-at-home mandate, some local leaders raised concerns about whether residents are listening to the pleas to avoid unnecessary risk.
While national parks, including Yosemite, Muir Woods and most recently, Point Reyes, have closed their gates to visitors, many county parks and state beaches remained open over the weekend. The parking lot of Montara State Beach was packed full of cars on Saturday, with some beachgoers parking illegally on Highway 1 in order to get a spot on the beach. On Sunday, Marin County announced it was closing all of its parks. The immediate closure affects over 18,000 acres in federal, state and local parks.
Dan Page, of Montara, said he understood that the area is a nice place to “get some fresh air” but that now “just isn’t the time for that.”
“Our entire state is supposed to be sheltering in place,” Page said. “We’re not supposed to be traveling long distances to overflow a tourist area.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday sharply criticized young people who flocked to parks, beaches and elsewhere, ignoring the 6-foot social distancing requirement.
“Those young people are still out there on the beaches thinking it’s time to party. It’s time to grow up, time to wake up,” Newsom said. “Time to recognize that it’s not just about the old folks, it’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish.”