California coronavirus cases near 40,000 as officials warn against crowding beaches

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — The number of coronavirus cases in California neared 40,000 on Friday as a weekend heat wave threatened to drive crowds to the state’s beaches.

The state saw its worst one-day fatality total on Wednesday, and the rate of new cases, after seeming to flatten, is rising amid more widely available testing. More than 39,600 cases have been reported and more than 1,500 people have died across the state.

“It’s a reminder we’re not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The coronavirus became the leading cause of death in Los Angeles County on Thursday as the number of fatalities continued to climb statewide, leading officials to say conditions are still too volatile to begin lifting the stay-at-home orders that have helped slow the spread of the virus. Nationwide, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Friday.

Even though California has been bending the coronavirus curve, and seeing a far less dire toll than places such as New York and New Jersey, the continuing spike in cases and deaths is one of several factors keeping officials from moving toward easing any of the social distancing rules.

Newsom reiterated Thursday that it is too early to lift those rules and urged people to stay home despite this week’s heat wave.

With Los Angeles beaches closed and potential record temperatures expected, some officials have raised concerns that people could flock to beaches in neighboring Ventura and Orange counties, which have reopened portions of their shorelines.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, has said repeatedly that the beaches must remain closed to prevent an overflow of visitors who might be carrying the potentially deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus. She has asked L.A. residents not to crowd beaches in other counties.

“We have high rates of illness and a lot of people in our county who are dying. We know it’s best right now for us Angelenos to stay home, or stay outside (in) your own yard or your own neighborhood,” Ferrer told the media Wednesday. To do otherwise, she said, would increase the risk of bringing the infection to L.A. “And we absolutely don’t need that.”

Cooling centers will be open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Los Angeles at the Lincoln Heights Recreation Center, the Mid-Valley Senior Center in Panorama City, the Robert M. Wilkinson Multipurpose Center in Northridge and the Sherman Oaks East Valley Adult Center.

All of those going to the centers to cool off will need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and keep their mouth and nose covered, according to the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Nurses will screen clients before they enter.

Public officials and those patrolling beaches say that compliance with the shutdown has been high, with only about half a dozen people cited in more than a month for breaking the county beach ban. Politicians including Garcetti and Newsom, as well as the L.A. County supervisors, cite polls showing public support for hunkering down longer to slow the coronavirus.

Most recently, survey results released Friday indicate the vast majority of California residents support the restrictions.

Among those polled, 75% want the order to continue as long as it’s needed, according to a California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey. Only 11% wanted to stop the stay-at-home order, while 13% had no opinion. Among low-income residents, support was even stronger: 78% support the stay-at-home order and only 3% oppose it.

The majority polled also said they are following various guidance from health officials, such as wearing masks, avoiding trips and staying at least 6 feet apart.

The poll involved more than 1,000 interviews between April 17 and April 22 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The governor said those who do choose to be outdoors this weekend should visit only open locations and ensure they remain physically separated from others as has been done over the last five weeks since he imposed a statewide stay-at-home order. If Californians don’t do that, Newsom said, he fears he’ll soon be reporting a sizable increase in the number of confirmed cases and possibly hospitalizations.

“I don’t think anybody wants to hear that. I don’t want to share that information. But that’s really less up to me, it’s more up to all of you,” he said.

On Wednesday, Newsom said most of the six milestones he set to consider loosening the stay-at-home order he issued last month have not been met. The only change the governor has made is to allow some elective surgeries to again be scheduled in hospitals, citing sufficient capacity.

“It will be those indicators that drive our decision-making,” he said Thursday. “Not dates. We don’t debate dates. We look at the facts objectively.”


(Wigglesworth, Fry and Rainey reported from Southern California; McGreevy and Myers from Northern California. Los Angeles Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.)


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