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California coronavirus case count tops 20,000, doubling in just a week

Fiona Kelliher and Kerry Crowley, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- California's coronavirus cases doubled this week to surpass 20,000 Thursday as the state announced a new effort to help overburdened healthcare workers.

Statewide, 20,126 people are confirmed to have the deadly respiratory illness with 545 dead, according to data compiled by this news organization, seven days after California reached 10,000 cases on April 2. The bulk of the cases remain clustered in Los Angeles, which counted 7,955 cases and 223 deaths. Santa Clara County remained the third hardest-hit county after San Diego, with 1,442 cases and 47 deaths.

The 20,000-case milestone came hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled out a new program to help doctors, nurses and first responders exposed to COVID-19 stay housed -- and closer to work. Newsom also noted that the number of patients in intensive care unit beds had dropped 1.9% since Wednesday, a figure he cautioned was not necessarily a trend but nevertheless suggested that shelter-in-place orders are helping to stem the spread of disease.

Thanks to a growing list of 150 participating hotels, the state's Department of General Services has bulk-purchased rooms for use by frontline healthcare workers, particularly those who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients or those who test positive but do not need to be hospitalized, Newsom said Thursday.

Rather than commuting home after a 12-hour shift -- only to turn right back around after hardly sleeping -- caregivers can stay in the rooms at a "deep" discount closer to work. Low-income workers will be reimbursed for the full cost associated with the room, according to the governor.

"We need to provide the kind of support that increasingly is needed for a workforce that is deeply stressed out, deeply stretched," Newsom said.

The program was sparked by stories of healthcare workers sleeping in their cars and refusing to go home to avoid infecting family members with COVID-19, Newsom said. It will be funded partially through FEMA's disaster relief funds and focus on hotels within California's hotspots for the disease, including several Bay Area counties like Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco.

Newsom clarified that the program will not take away hotel rooms for homeless residents that have been promised through Project Roomkey, a similar effort designed to get homeless residents off the street.

Despite the growing caseload for healthcare workers, Newsom offered quiet optimism about the "lengthening" of the state's upward curve as the number of COVID-19 patients receiving care in ICU beds dropped to 1,132 Thursday from 1,154 Wednesday. Meanwhile, 2,825 patients statewide are hospitalized, marking an increase of 4.1%.


"I caution anybody to read too much into that one point of data," Newsom said of the ICU beds. "But nonetheless, it is encouraging and it just reinforces all of the work you are doing to practice physical distancing."

In the Bay Area, San Francisco reported 48 new positive cases for a total of 724, while San Mateo County reported 16 new cases for a total of 633. The counties' death tolls remained at 10 and 21, respectively. Contra Costa County reported one new death for a total of eight, along with 22 new cases for a total of 484. Alameda County reported 41 new cases and one new death -- Berkeley's first -- for a total of 713 cases and 17 deaths. Santa Clara County reported 62 new cases and one new death for its latest totals.

The state Department of Public Health also moved to release more data by race on Thursday, though the picture remains incomplete: A little more than half of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 include race-based analysis. Within that, about 30% of the confirmed cases and 25% of the deaths have occurred in the Latino community, which represents 39% of the state's total population. Seven percent of the confirmed cases and 8% of deaths have affected the black community, which represents 6% of the state's population. Newsom also noted 13% of the confirmed cases and 18% of the deaths have occurred in the Asian American community, which makes up 15% of the state's population.

Santa Clara County followed the state's lead in releasing data based off race -- but only for COVID-19 deaths -- and also Thursday began releasing data by city.

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