Santa Clara County’s health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, warned last week that on her county’s current trajectory, it would run out of hospital capacity in three weeks.
As the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the nation, the state and the Bay Area, it’s time for the region’s health officials to take action as they they did in March.
With the absence of any leadership from President Donald Trump, and with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s bumbling and timidity, it’s time for Bay Area leaders to pave the way, much as they did at the onset of the pandemic.
It seems that it’s not a question of if a shelter-in-place order will be necessary, it’s only a matter of when. And the sooner health officials act, the better the chances of flattening the curve, sparing our hospitals from being overwhelmed, and saving lives.
In the past month, the number of coronavirus cases in the country, California and the Bay Area has approximately tripled. The nation and state are at unprecedented case levels; the Bay Area is close.
It’s not just that more people are being tested. It’s also that the portion of tests coming back positive for the virus is rising rapidly, roughly doubling in the past month in both the nation and California.
Daily deaths across the nation have also roughly doubled, reaching the worst levels since mid-May. The rise in California hasn’t been as quick, but the effects of the latest surge on our state have lagged much of the nation.
There are clear signs that California fatalities will soon follow the national trend. Statewide hospitalization rates are increasing rapidly as are the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care. Ditto for the Bay Area. Santa Clara County’s health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, warned last week that on her county’s current trajectory, it would run out of hospital capacity in three weeks.
All that is before Thanksgiving holiday gatherings, the Black Friday shopping rush, interstate travelers penetrate the region and the state, and the weather turns seriously colder, forcing more people indoors. The holiday season could become the nation’s worst super-spreader event.
Local, state and national health officials have been pleading with people to stay home and celebrate Thanksgiving with only members of their household — or no more than two other households outdoors and socially distanced. But we already know that too many are selfishly ignoring those requests.
To counter that, California health officials have moved most counties into the most-restrictive purple tier of the governor’s risk-level indicators. That affects 94% of the state’s population, including every Bay Area county except Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo. And while the first two of those are not waiting on the state to ratchet back, San Mateo County officials continue to balk at decisive action.
Meanwhile, for those purple counties, the governor last week imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on non-essential work, movement and gatherings. It seemed to be aimed at gathering places like bars and restaurants, but, in purple counties, indoor activities there were already prohibited at any hour.
Sure, the curfew can’t hurt. But Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of health and human services, could offer no statistical evidence it would help. He and Newsom have warned that more restrictions could be coming, but they’re not saying what and when. Meanwhile, their color-coding system is not stemming the virus.
Which brings us to the need for a Bay Area shelter order. Clearly, no one wants to shut down much of the economy. And we’ve learned more about the virus since the spring. But the fundamentals have not changed.
We’ve already demonstrated that we can flatten the curve by sheltering. This fall, Europe showed again that the strategy works.
Now — as cases, infection rates and deaths are all rising quickly, and hospitals are starting to fill — is the time to get ahead of this. The longer we wait, the bigger the problem will become, the harder it will be to control the virus.