By practically every metric, California is steadily beating back the coronavirus pandemic. But officials are watching data that could suggest a second surge of the virus is on the way, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
As COVID-19 test positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen, more than half of California's counties have been allowed to reopen some indoor business operations. Health officials are now watching as a lesser-known metric that signals how quickly the virus is spreading has "crept back up," Newsom said.
"If we're not cautious, if we're not vigilant, if we're not wearing our masks, if we're not practicing physical distancing, these numbers can start to tip back up," he said.
The metric, called the effective transmission number, represents the average number of people who are infected by each person with COVID-19. A rate under 1 means COVID-19 cases will fall over time, while a rate over 1 means cases will increase, experts say.
The San Francisco Bay Area's rate is 0.95, the highest since mid-August, according to state data. The rate in five Southern California counties, excluding Los Angeles, is approaching 0.97, the highest since mid-July.
In Los Angeles County, the figure is 1.02, suggesting there may be an uptick in COVID-19 cases, officials said. But the region has avoided a significant surge in cases after Labor Day weekend, said Barbara Ferrer, head of the county's Public Health Department.
Newsom's warning comes as elected officials from San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties continue to push to fully reopen businesses and schools, saying the restrictions are crushing California's economy.
"Our businesses have suffered," said Banning Mayor Daniela Andrade at a media briefing Monday morning. "We have empty storefronts. Some will never be reopened again. The economy is suffering hugely."
The complaint has become a familiar drumbeat for the Golden State, as officials try to strike a balance between preventing the spread of the deadly virus and allowing business owners, workers and students to return to normal life.
A month ago, Newsom announced a new four-tier reopening plan that requires counties to show consistent progress in slowing the transmission of the virus before businesses can reopen or in-person instruction can resume in schools.