356,000 Californians infected, shutdowns ravage local businesses

It was another troubling week in California, as growing infections and hospitalizations prompted state and local officials to announce new widespread closures of businesses and schools across the state to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic, which is disproportionately ravaging communities of color, has killed at least 7,345 Californians. This week alone, more than 35,000 Californians were reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to state data released Thursday morning, bringing the total number of infections in the state to about 356,000.

Nearly 6,800 Californians with the virus are currently in a hospital bed, according to the state. About 28 percent of hospitalized patients are in intensive care. There were nine fewer COVID-19 patients in hospital beds on Wednesday compared to the previous day.

“This continues to be a deadly disease,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during his noon press conference Monday. “This continues to be a disease that puts people in our ICUs and our hospitals. and is currently putting a strain on our hospital system and our ICUs.”

Over the last week as of Wednesday, about 7.2 percent of all coronavirus tests came back positive. That rolling average is close to the state’s self-imposed benchmark of keeping the positivity rate at 8 percent or less before reopening the economy.

To curtail the growing virus spread in California, Newsom on Monday ordered the closure statewide of all indoor business at restaurants, wineries, theaters, zoos, museums, card rooms, bars and family entertainment centers.

In addition, shopping malls, gyms, indoor church worship, nail salons and barber shops are also shut down for indoor activity in counties representing about 80 percent of Californians, including Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties. The affected counties are those that had been on the state’s monitoring list for troubling coronavirus trends for three or more days.

Economists say the renewed shutdowns will be a devastating setback for businesses that managed to scrape by in the spring during initial stay-at-home orders, and could lead to a resurgence of record-setting unemployment once again.

“Any thought of a V-shaped economic recovery has been nipped in the bud,” Sung Won Sohn, a business economist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, previously told The Bee. “There is no chance of that at all.”

Also this week, local school officials announced public school campuses in Sacramento County will remain closed when instruction resumes in the fall, a decision that’s left tens of thousands of families and teachers scrambling to plan for an extension of distance-learning programs.

The announcement by Sacramento County Office of Education applies to its 13 districts, which oversee schools serving more than 250,000 students from kindergarten through high school.

“Conditions are not safe enough for students, staff and families to allow school to open up in person at this time,” said Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools Dave Gordon.

New COVID-19 shutdowns hammer Sacramento economy

Newsom’s new business shutdown orders are sweeping. Statewide, they include closure of indoor dining, wineries, movie theaters and other venues. The governor also closed hair salons, health clubs, houses of worship, indoor malls and other locations in 29 counties covering the vast majority of the state’s population, including most of the Sacramento area.

All told, the governor’s order represents a serious setback to regional and statewide economies that were just starting to get back on their feet from the original March stay-at-home order.

The timing of Newsom’s order is bad in many respects. The $600 in weekly additional unemployment benefits disbursed by Congress will run out in late July. Many of the hundreds of Sacramento-area companies that received Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans from the U.S. government have burned through their money.

“The expectation was, in a couple of months we as an economy would be back on our feet again, and corona would go away,” said Virginia Varela, chief executive at Golden Pacific Bank in Sacramento, which processed Paycheck Protection loan applications.

Business owners said the psychological toll on their employees might be harder than it was the first time they were furloughed in March.

“There’s a whole different level of disappointment,” said John Pickerel, co-owner of the Buckhorn Grill restaurant chain, where dozens have been furloughed in the past week.

Black, Hispanic Californians struggle to get medical care

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of all Sacramentans, but certain communities — particularly Black, Hispanic and lower-income residents — have been feeling the impacts of COVID-19 more severely.

A new poll published this week and growing consensus among public health experts reveals the widening inequities in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. A particularly concerning issue for Californians of color: Access to healthcare during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Resilience Poll found that it’s been more difficult — and in some cases impossible — for Black and Hispanic respondents to secure medicine and health advice, compared to residents of other ethnic groups. While Latinos make up 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, only 5.5 percent of U.S. psychologists said they can provide services in Spanish.

“Prior to COVID-19, our mental health system and access to mental health providers that were culturally, linguistically representative of Latino communities were nonexistent” said Jeff Reynoso, executive director for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. “Add on to that, a global pandemic, it’s only going to heighten the need for mental health primary care services.”

Most nursing home staff say a coworker has tested positive

In the latest poll results from the California Health Care Foundation, low-wage nursing home workers overwhelmingly see their workplaces as epicenters of transmission of COVID-19 for themselves, their families and the residents they serve.

Three out of four surveyed workers said they have had known or suspected COVID-19 cases among staff at their facility. About about 60 percent of the respondents said their facility has had an infection among residents — roughly in line with state public health data revealing about 55 percent of the facilities in the state have had a case among residents.

“This is a population and a setting that we need to make sure we’re doing absolutely everything we can to protect,” said Kristof Stremikis, director of market analysis and insight at the California Health Care Foundation. “The data by themselves were just pretty shocking when I saw the numbers.”

The industry, executive vice president with SEIU 2015 Arnulfo De La Cruz said, offers a microcosm for understanding why COVID-19 has so disproportionately affected the poor and people of color in the United States.

“The majority of nursing home workers in California are women and women of color,” De La Cruz said. “The work that our members do who are Black and Latino is essential. They have not had the luxury to shelter in place for the last four months or so. They’ve been showing up and going to work and making sure that California runs.”

California buys 18 million child-sized masks for schools

The state has been sending masks to school districts since the start of the pandemic, and began purchasing child-sized masks last month based on feedback from the districts, said Governor’s Office spokesman Brian Ferguson.

Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t issued any statewide guidance on whether schools should reopen their buildings, saying just one approach doesn’t work in a state with more than 1,000 districts serving more than six million children.

The Sacramento County Office of Education announced Wednesday that its 13 districts won’t reopen classrooms this fall. The Los Angeles Unified School District is online for now, while the Orange County Board of Education is planning to hold classes without a mask requirement for students.

The state has issued guidance for how schools may safely reopen, but hasn’t made a final recommendation on masks in schools. State Department of Education guidance says that if districts require students to wear masks, the districts must provide them.

Passenger traffic may plunge again at Sacramento International

Sacramento International Airport saw a deep plunge in spring passenger traffic as the coronavirus pandemic continued to batter air travel.

About 2.9 million fewer passengers boarded and deplaned at Sacramento in the second quarter compared with the same three-month span during a record-breaking 2019, airport figures show.

Sacramento International showed signs of life in May: It doubled the 70,000 total passengers who flew into and out of the airport in April, and again in June, with nearly 300,000 passengers in June.

Now a new surge in coronavirus cases that triggered a new wave this week of state-ordered closures representing 80 percent of the state, including the majority of the Sacramento region, could threaten that trend.

“We had just started to see business pick up in a positive way,” Visit Sacramento CEO Mike Testa said Tuesday.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: 142 dead, 9,700 infected

The six-county region of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba has reported 9,748 people infected by the coronavirus as of Thursday morning. The virus has killed a total of 142 in the region.

Sacramento County reported 221 new cases Thursday morning, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections to 6,395 since the pandemic started. Thus far, the virus has killed 94 people, according to the county’s data dashboard updated Thursday morning.

There were 184 COVID-19 patients in Sacramento County hospital beds as of Thursday, 15 more compared to the previous day. Currently, 58 patients are in intensive care units, according to state public health data.

The city of Sacramento, which accounts for about one-third of the county’s roughly 1.5 million residents, has now surpassed 3,880 cases and has had 50 residents die.

Placer County reported 36 new cases Thursday morning, bringing the total number of infections there to 1,203. There are now 49 people hospitalized with the virus, and 10 in intensive care. Eleven people have died of COVID-19 in Placer County thus far. The vast majority of cases, about 80 percent, have originated from the south Placer area including Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln.

Yolo County on Wednesday evening reported 24 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death due to the respiratory disease. The county has reported a total of 1,023 cases and 30 deaths. The county on Tuesday reported 33 new cases and one death. About one in ten infections have been linked to outbreaks at six long-term care facilities in Yolo County, resulting in 106 people infected. Stollwood Convalescent Hospital’s outbreak, which was first reported in April, has accounted for 17 deaths.

El Dorado County on Thursday afternoon reported 18 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 381 cases since the pandemic began. Of those, 171 remain active cases, with two people hospitalized, both in intensive care. Nearly half of the county’s cases have been reported in the Lake Tahoe region. The county has not reported any deaths related to COVID-19, but has seen case totals climb faster in the past few weeks. On Wednesday, the county reported 13 new cases, the same number of new cases it reported Tuesday.

North of the four-county capital region, Sutter County reported 17 new COVID-19 cases Thursday night, for a total of 471 confirmed infections. Of those, 11 are in the hospital. The county has a total of four fatalities, but no new deaths were reported Thursday.

Yuba County reported 6 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday night for a total of 236 cases. Of those, five are in the hospital. Three have died in the county thus far, but no new deaths were reported Thursday. The county reported a death from COVID-19 on Saturday; the first of the pandemic came in early April.

In the Yuba-Sutter area, about a third of the patients testing positive showed no symptoms of the virus, based on local public health data reported.

World numbers: Death toll over 590,000, more than 13.8 million infected

Over 13.8 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 worldwide and more than 590,000 have died as of Friday morning, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

About one-quarter of each — about 3.6 million infections and over 138,000 deaths — have come in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

After the U.S., the coronavirus has hit hardest in Brazil, where over 2 million have tested positive and more than 76,000 have died.

Next by death toll are the United Kingdom at more than 45,000, Mexico at 37,500, Italy at over 35,000, France at just over 30,000 and Spain at more than 28,000, according to Johns Hopkins.

What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within 6 feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s possible to catch the disease COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Symptoms of the virus that causes COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure.

Most people develop only mild symptoms, but some people develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The disease is especially dangerous to the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.

The Sacramento Bee’s Cathie Anderson, Tony Bizjak, Kim Bojórquez, Michael Finch II, Dale Kasler, Sawsan Morrar, Andrew Sheeler, Darrell Smith, Wes Venteicher and Hannah Wiley contributed to this story.

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