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California's slide from coronavirus success to danger zone began Memorial Day

Rong-Gong Lin II, Iris Lee, Sean Greene and Soumya Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- The seeds of the latest surge in coronavirus cases in California appear to have been planted around Memorial Day.

People had been pent up in their homes; businesses shuttered for months amid the stay-at-home order began to open. And as the reopening accelerated, a lot of people were ready to get out.

The beckon of summer rituals followed -- day trips to the beach, Memorial Day barbecues, graduation celebrations, Father's Day gatherings. Around the same time, historic protests began, triggered by outrage over the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while in police custody, which sparked unprecedented demonstrations across the nation, including in the streets of California.

It would take a few weeks of incubation. But it's now clear that Memorial Day was the beginning of something. A Los Angeles Times analysis has found that new coronavirus hospitalizations in California began accelerating around June 15 at a rate not seen since early April.

Statewide, the daily number of people in hospitals with a confirmed infection of the coronavirus has jumped nearly 50% from when it had been stable in mid-April, The Times found. As of Saturday, there were 4,498 people hospitalized; in mid-April, the daily average was about 3,100.

It can take two weeks for the virus to incubate in the body, and an additional week or two after that to result in the hospitalization of severely ill people. That means more people may have gotten exposed to the virus around the week of Memorial Day or shortly thereafter, said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a medical epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.


Health officials and experts always knew that easing stay-at-home orders would result in a higher level of cases. But they also said they had to make progress in reopening.

Continuing to keep society shut down at such an extreme state for too long causes its own ill effects, whether it be more homelessness and deaths due to greater poverty or the effects of denying schoolchildren their in-person education, Kim-Farley said.

"It's a luxury to shelter in place," added Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the University of California, San Francisco's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. "We have to think about how we open and minimize risk. We're going to be living with this virus for a long time."

But there is no textbook to figure out how to reopen California safely amid the world's worst pandemic in a century, faced with a never-before-seen coronavirus.


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