COVID-19 Hospitalizations Surge In California After Lockdowns Lifted

One infectious disease specialist says young people returning to Southern California beaches may have accelerated the virus' spread.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Surge In California After Lockdowns Lifted
Richard Vogel / AP

California was America's first state to impose strict lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus. And it reopened cautiously, with social distancing requirements for restaurants and other businesses.

Yet COVID-19 cases are spiking again in the country's most populous state. California recorded its highest single-day death toll, 149, on Wednesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom says hospital admissions have increased by 44% in two weeks. And Los Angeles officials say one intensive care unit just reached capacity.

"We're entering a phase in which we're seeing community spread and hospitalizations like we saw in April."

California recorded a daily high of nearly 11,700 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, though officials say that figure includes a lot of previously unrecorded cases from Los Angeles County.

This month, Newsom rolled back reopenings in 19 counties, which are home to 70% of the state's population.

"Bottom line is the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning. We're seeing parts of the state where we are seeing an increase in not only the total number of positive cases, but a significant increase in the total number of people that are getting tested that are testing positive."

But Newsom says California has expanded its emergency capacity so that it can handle as many as 50,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at once, with alternative care sites readied for a surge.

"We have pre-positioned a lot of these medical assets as FMS sites throughout the state of California and in areas that were vulnerable to ... surges and spikesbb." 

An infectious disease specialist says one of the state's most treasured assets, its beaches, may have helped spread the virus as young people flocked back to the surf and sand starting Memorial Day weekend.

"In terms of what went wrong, I think many people in public health preset to the Memorial Day effect, and of course, it's complicated. But many people, after seeing months and months in a unified way and being really good, just got tired, you know? Particularly, I think, young people. There were, of course, people flocking to SoCal beaches."

Beach closures were ordered over the Fourth of July weekend, including at Los Angeles' Manhattan Beach. But the closure has been lifted. The waves never left, and people are back amid the pandemic.

For Newsy, I'm Peter Hecht