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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

"It may be that they're no longer as conscious about masking and physical distancing," Kim-Farley said.

Another factor is that the political discord in the U.S. and California over the response to the pandemic, such as political fights over using face masks, is hurting our ability to control the epidemic, experts say. Countries that have had a unified public response to broad pandemic control measures, like New Zealand and Taiwan, have kept the virus from spiraling out of control, experts say.

The pandemic could have triggered the sense of unifying around a common enemy in the U.S. "Unfortunately, we've made it such that it's become very divisive and become very politicized," Kim-Farley said.

"If everyone could be very responsible about practicing the masking and physical distancing, we should be able to open up without having, again, the surges we're seeing."

The reverberations of severe outbreaks in Southern California are now being felt across the state.

The San Francisco Bay Area is being confronted with a large outbreak of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison, where the virus was imported after 121 prisoners were transferred from the California Institution for Men in Chino without being tested for the virus. On Sunday, there were 832 active cases of COVID-19 at San Quentin, Marin County officials said.

More than 75 staff at the prison have been infected, and some of them live in Marin County, health officials said. San Francisco hospitals are taking in patients not only from San Quentin, but also from Imperial County, which Newsom on Friday recommended implement a new stay-at-home order.

San Francisco has seen its number of cases spike, with the seven-day average now worse than at any previous point in the pandemic.

"We talked about flattening that curve. That curve is not flat right now. In fact, that curve is getting more and more vertical," Dr. Grant Colfax, the San Francisco director of public health, said Friday.

"We hope that if everyone does their part to cover their face, social distance and take good hygiene measures that that curve will start going back down and flatten, and we will be able to move forward. But it will take time," Colfax said.

San Francisco has halted the planned reopening of outdoor bars, hair and nail salons, tattoo shops, museums, zoos and outdoor swimming that was expected to take place Monday.

So far, the number of daily deaths statewide has not jumped. At its highest, the seven-day average of daily fatalities was 79 on May 21; on Friday, it was about 64 deaths a day.

That may be because the people now getting infected are increasingly younger adults, who are less likely to suffer severe complications than older people, or because it will simply take more weeks before those now being hospitalized will die.

Newsom has warned that he expects the daily death toll to rise in the coming weeks.


Experts say new coronavirus infections have also reached their highest levels nationally since the start of the pandemic.

"There is explosive growth of COVID-19 epidemic across the Southeast and Southwest of the United States, with certain exceptions. And we're in fact seeing a new rise to the highest levels we've ever seen in the United States," Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert, said at a campus town hall Friday.

Nationally, there are a cumulative 2.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 125,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Rutherford identified four reasons behind the increase in California:

-- An increase in community transmission of the disease, which comes as stay-at-home orders have eased and people are not complying with mask orders.

-- Large institutional outbreaks, such as those in prisons and nursing homes.

-- Increased testing, as well as targeted intensive testing in hard-hit neighborhoods.

-- The return of Americans, many of whom are in retirement, from Mexico, who are seeking medical care as the pandemic worsens in that country.

(Los Angeles Times staff writers Maura Dolan and Laura Newberry contributed to this report.)

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