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Will California's coronavirus crisis look like Italy's soon?

Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

It begins each day in the early afternoon: Patients stream into hospitals with fevers, shakes, chills and breathing problems. In Italy, the latest country hardest hit by the new coronavirus, it's been happening seemingly like clockwork.

"It's really hard to see so many people sick at the same time," Dr. Roberto Cosentini, a doctor in the northern city of Bergamo near Milan, said in a podcast for emergency room physicians. "It's like a regular daily earthquake."

Is this what's in store for California?

More than 2,600 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Golden State and 55 people have died of the respiratory disease. That's a far cry from the 69,000 cases and 6,820 deaths reported in Italy.

But health officials here have hinted that it's possible.

"We are in a grave crisis," warned Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County's health officer. "Unless everyone does their part and follows the county's shelter-in-place order and the governor's Safer at Home order, we will be facing an Italy-type catastrophe very soon," he said in a statement released Monday night.


In nearby San Francisco, Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, is bracing for a surge in hospitalized patients within the next week or two. "The worst is yet to come," he said.

California's first coronavirus infection was confirmed in late January, and COVID-19 cases and deaths have been climbing exponentially since the beginning of March.

On Tuesday, county officials across California announced 395 new cases of coronavirus infection; the previous Tuesday, there were only 158 new cases. Likewise, on Tuesday, 11 new deaths were reported across the state; the previous Tuesday, there were three new deaths.

No one can be sure what the future holds for California. If residents respect Gov. Gavin Newsom's order to stay home as much as possible, illnesses and deaths may be avoided or delayed. On the other hand, if a single asymptomatic person enters the state and becomes a superspreader -- transmitting the virus to a large number of people -- he or she could ignite a new outbreak.


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