SAN FRANCISCO -- The next two weeks are shaping up to be critical for California as officials wait to see if the sweeping restrictions imposed in late June and July show any signs of slowing the rapid spread of coronavirus in communities across the state.
This week was marked by a series of grim milestones as California shattered a one-day record for new coronavirus cases -- more than 11,000 on Tuesday -- as well as rising infection rates and growing numbers of hospitalizations. Because the coronavirus can take weeks to incubate, much of the current surge is still tied to people exposed to the virus in June, as counties rapidly reopened the economy and many returned to old but now dangerous routines such as bar-hopping and attending parties and other social events. Many also returned to workplaces that didn't implement new safety protocols.
The big question now is whether Californians changed their behavior enough in July to reduce infection rates. Officials began raising alarms in the days before the July 4 holiday and over the last few weeks have closed bars, indoor dining, shopping malls, gyms and other retail establishments in many areas.
"It's kind of in everybody's hands right now," said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for L.A. County. "We don't have a lot of time, though. At some point, you turn that corner where you're actually expecting hospitals to provide way more care than is possible."
On June 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered bars shut in L.A. County and several others, and a day later, Ferrer warned of "alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and hospitalization." By July 1, Newsom ordered indoor restaurant dining and bars closed in 19 counties, affecting 72% of the state's population.
It has been about two weeks since then, but it'll take at least three weeks to learn whether the actions taken that week decisively changed the course of the pandemic, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services for Los Angeles County. Ghaly said Wednesday that if people got back to safer behavior -- staying home as much as possible, avoiding social gatherings, wearing face coverings, keeping physical distance and workplaces following new safety protocols -- L.A. County could avoid having hospitals and ICUs overwhelmed.
Even more businesses have shut down this week, with Newsom ordering the closure of all bars and indoor dining rooms at restaurants. And in the hardest-hit counties that are home to more than 88% of Californians, he also closed indoor operations of gyms, places of worship, hair salons, nail salons, malls, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, arcades and offices for nonessential industries.
If one thing is clear, officials across the state said, it's now up to residents and businesses to do their best to slow the spread of disease. The percentage of younger adults getting infected with the coronavirus is growing, and younger adults are now making up a larger share of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, making up nearly 30% of them in L.A. County.
"Birthday parties, the visits with grandparents ... the barbecues: they are contributing to a delay or rollback in reopening of businesses," said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's public health director.
California on Tuesday recorded its highest number of new cases in a single day, 11,142 infections; Tuesday also marked the second-highest number of deaths in a single day statewide, with 144 deaths tallied, according to the Los Angeles Times' California coronavirus tracker.