SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California saw its first daily decrease in intensive care hospitalizations during the coronavirus outbreak, a key indicator of how many health care workers and medical supplies the state needs, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
The rate of all virus hospitalizations has slowed this week. Those in the ICU need the highest level of care, and so it was particularly encouraging that the number of patients in those rooms actually dropped 1.9% on Wednesday to 1,132.
The virus can cause severe breathing problems, and ventilators are a key tool in keeping the sickest patients alive. Newsom has been building the state's stockpile and earlier this week was confident enough of the supply to send 500 to other states.
California hospitals have more than 11,000 ventilators, and two-thirds aren't being used, he said.
“I caution anybody to read too much into that,” Newsom said of the decline in ICU hospitalizations. “But nonetheless, it is encouraging. It reinforces the incredible work all of you are doing.”
California is entering its fourth week of a statewide “stay-at-home” order that has shuttered schools and non-essential businesses. In the past four weeks, California processed more unemployment insurance claims — 2.3 million — than it did in all of 2019. But help is coming Sunday, when unemployed Californians will start getting an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, money Congress approved as part of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Newsom and state public health officials have been preparing for a worst-case scenario surge of COVID-19 patients that could require an additional 66,000 hospital beds and 10,000 ventilators beyond the hospitals' current total.
But after weeks of social distancing, the virus has been spreading at a slower pace than anticipated, though state officials are sticking with their forecast that the peak of the disease in the state will occur in mid-May. The well-respected model created by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to track cases around the world forecasts California's peak will occur next week.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe life-threatening illness, including pneumonia.
California has more than 19,100 confirmed COVID-19 cases and has recorded at least 507 deaths, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Los Angeles County, the state's largest with 10 million residents, has about 40% of the cases and deaths. It reported 425 new cases Thursday, one of the smallest recent increases, though daily counts sometimes have fluctuated by hundreds.
Still, it was far below the 1,000 or more cases county health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer had said last week could be occurring now.
“The data is encouraging,” Ferrer said Thursday. “We know that all of the sacrifices, and they are huge sacrifices that everyone is making, is in fact slowing the spread. But slowing the spread is a consistent activity that we have to continue to do for many days to come.”
State officials are not slowing preparations. The state has an agreement in place to spend nearly $1 billion to purchase 200 million masks each month for health care workers, first responders and grocery workers and employees at other essential businesses, Newsom said Wednesday.
Newsom announced Thursday the state will offer discounted hotel rooms to health care workers who have been exposed to coronavirus patients or have tested positive themselves. Workers can book the rooms, beginning Friday, with the state Department of General Services at CalTravelStore.com.
The rooms also could be used for exhausted health care workers who are working long hours far from home, Newsom said.
“The idea you are doing a 12-hour shift and at 2, 3 in the morning have to drive all the way back home only to get right back up and do a double shift early in the morning, that's not appropriate," he said.
Newsom said the rooms will be paid for through a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.