California was one of the nation’s leaders in fighting the coronavirus—but now it’s become a major hotspot

California coronavirus rates
Photo via soomness/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hospitalizations in California have surged in late June and early July, increasing by 50% over a two-week span, according to Reuters. On July 6, the state had seen an increase in more 11,000 new COVID-19 cases in just one day. That’s a much different story than California’s coronavirus response in the early days of the pandemic.

In April, California was widely applauded for its swift response to COVID-19 and its ability to keep the epidemic curve flat with less than 2,000 new cases a day. The state was one of the first to implement lockdowns in its major cities, and testing and masks were more accessible in California than many other states. But two months later, California is seeing a significant surge in cases—more than 5,000 a day—and is quickly becoming a hotspot. 

“In the last seven days, we’ve seen a 45% increase in the total number of cases that have tested positive in the state of California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference on July 6.

Business Insider reports that California is now seeing a spike in cases because the state opened up too soon. California lifted restrictions even though cases were still rising daily, despite being advised by CDC guidelines to wait until there was a two-week decline in cases. 

The reporting from Business Insider also found that Southern California had a more severe surge in cases than Northern California because of the difference in how early each area reopened. When California opened non-essential businesses on May 8, the Bay Area and Sacramento had stricter local laws than Los Angeles, which reopened gyms, outdoor recreation areas, and museums. 

An in-depth report from Vox echoed the same sentiment and pointed out that younger people and the Latin communities working essential jobs have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in California. 

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco, told Vox that it was a combination of many things that led to California’s current situation.  

“The story of California is the story of why we all have to do more,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “I don’t think we can easily point to a totally outrageous government policy or a totally outrageous citizen action or a totally outrageous anything. It really is that all of these things together matter.”

That combination included agricultural workers having to go to their essential jobs even if they felt sick, overcrowded housing in many parts of the state, outbreaks in prisons and nursing homes, and plenty of people getting “COVID-19 fatigue” and being less vigilant about social distancing. 

The politicization of face coverings didn’t help either. Lee Riley, an epidemiologist at the University of California-Berkeley, told the Guardian that some Californians believed social distancing and wearing masks infringed on their civil liberties. 

Californians “thought they were safe to just have parties, go to overcrowded beaches, to get close to other people, and take off their masks”, Riley said. “People began to fixate on individual liberties without understanding that one of the most fundamental civil liberties in the U.S. is the right to health—the right to stay alive.”

As of July 7, California had more than 277,000 coronavirus cases (No. 2 in the country behind New York) and more than 6,400 deaths. 

On July 13, Newsom, once again, shuttered bars and shut down indoor restaurant dining because of the coronavirus outbreak. In many counties that have been hit hard by COVID-19, churches, salons, and gyms also have been closed.

By the end of July, California was No. 1 in the country with 466,500 coronavirus cases and more than 8,700 deaths.

Sources: Reuters, CNN, Business Insider, Vox, Guardian

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