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California Virus Death Toll Surpasses 100; Infections Surge

In the aftermath of the first California resident to die from the coronavirus,California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency to deal with the virus, at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
Associated Press
In the aftermath of the first California resident to die from the coronavirus,California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency to deal with the virus, at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

With cases of coronavirus surging and the death toll surpassing 100, lawmakers are pleading with cooped-up Californians to spend a second weekend at home to slow the spread of infection.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 spiked to more than 1,000 and that overnight the number of people admitted to intensive care units doubled from 200 to more than 400. He said the numbers are relatively modest in comparison with the 52,000 confirmed cases in New York, the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, but the trend could lead to overstretched hospitals in California.

California could see conditions similar to New York "if we stop practicing physical distancing ... if we pull back from our stay-at-home policy ... if we go back to our normal routines without bending the curve," Newsom said while touring a Silicon Valley firm that is refurbishing outdated ventilators for hospitals.

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The escalating crisis was underscored by an announcement Saturday that 12 elderly residents of a nursing facility in the Southern California desert city of Yucaipa tested positive for COVID-19. An 89-year-old woman who lived there died from the illness Thursday, according to San Bernardino County public health officials, who said they are working to test an unspecified number of residents and employees at the facility.

"This outbreak is a signal to anyone in the county who is not taking this pandemic seriously and is resisting complying with public health orders and guidelines that the threat of COVID-19 is very real," said Dr. Erin Gustafson, the acting county health officer.

Also on Saturday, the state's Judicial Council announced a series to change to California's court system in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The council, the rule-making arm of the judicial system, announced several measures that will take effect immediately and extend 90 days after California lifts its state of emergency.

They are:

— Extend the period of 10 court days for holding a preliminary hearing and the defendant's right of release to 30 court days.


— Extend the period in which a defendant charged with a felony shall be taken before a judicial officer from 48 hours to not more than seven days.

— Extend the period for holding a criminal trial by more than 30 days.

— Extend the period to bring an action to trial by more than 30 days

The council directed courts to use technology such as video conferences to conduct judicial proceedings and other operations remotely. The council also told courts to use technology in arraignments and preliminary hearings so that "defendants are not held in custody, and children are not held in custody or removed from the custody of their parents or guardians, without timely due process of law or in violation of constitutional rights."

It has been more than a week since Newsom issued the stay-at-home order for 40 million residents, restricting them from all but essential outside activities such as buying food and including only outdoor exercise such as walking or running near home that doesn't put them within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of another person.

However, reports of people packing beaches and hiking trails has prompted local governments to close recreation areas.

Los Angeles this weekend began a three-week shutdown of beaches, piers, beach bike paths and parking lots along with public trails, including one leading to the famous Hollywood sign. Golf courses, tennis courts and skate parks also were shuttered.

The warnings resonated at Venice Beach, which was nearly empty on a sunny Saturday except for a few souls walking by the water and cycling on the bike path. The scene was remarkably different from a week ago, when people packed the famous stretch of sand on the first weekend of the stay-at-home order.

In San Diego, the most popular beaches were blocked with yellow police tape, and police were patrolling them to discourage people from congregating there. San Diego County sheriff's deputies are stressing compliance with the state and county orders. But spokesman Ricardo Lopez said scofflaws could face misdemeanor charges carrying a sentence of up to six months in jail.

On Friday, Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the surge in COVID-19 that health officials warned about will worsen.

"We are now seeing the spike that we were anticipating," Newsom declared while standing in front of the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship Mercy that arrived in the Port of Los Angeles. It will take non-virus patients to free up rooms at hospitals for infection cases.

Newsom said California's cases grew 26% in one day even with 65,000 test results pending. Johns Hopkins University tallied more than 5,000 California cases Saturday, with at least 112 deaths.

After a slow start, testing has accelerated rapidly, from about 27,000 on Tuesday to nearly 90,000 by Saturday.

In Los Angeles County — the nation's most populous with more than 10 million residents — there were over 1,800. Six new deaths were reported on Saturday, raising the county's death toll to 32. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said if the trend continues, the city's cases could double every two days. That would put Los Angeles on par with New York City's outbreak in five days.

"We will be where they are," Garcetti said. "We will have doctors making excruciating decisions. We will be trying to figure out what we do with that surge, how to get ventilators, where to find beds."

New York City has more than 29,000 cases and at least 517 deaths.

For most people, the 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 illness, including pneumonia and death.

Regina Olivas, 55, of Los Angeles knows the risks well. She is an operation supervisor at The Angeles Clinic, a noted cancer research and treatment center. Oncology patients can have weakened immune systems, which can make them more vulnerable to serious impacts of infection.

"I'm so inundated with it, I don't even want to talk about when I go home," she said of virus concerns. "I live and breathe it."

Olivas also runs the Santa Monica Mountain Goats, a longtime running group that typically brings together about 30 people.

But in the wake of the outbreak, "we're doing virtual runs," said Olivas on Friday as she ran near her Porter Ranch home. "I'm having them run out wherever they want at 7:30 a.m., wherever they can, take a picture, post it. So we're all running, we're just not running together."

"Distancing is what's going to keep us healthy," she said.

In San Francisco, where nearly 300 people have tested positive and four have died, Mayor London Breed pleaded with people to stay inside. Breed asked people to walk to their neighborhood park if they need fresh air, but not drive to the beach.

"We know what happened last weekend," she said. "Sadly, we saw a number of areas in our city that were just jam-packed."

Light rain in the Bay Area kept people from packing the parks or hiking trails, though it didn't appear to deter shoppers at the popular farmer's market at San Francisco's Ferry Building. Several lines formed around vegetable stands and people stood at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart, heeding signs posted around the market telling them to do just that.

Meanwhile, Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area reported its first death related to the virus: A man in his 70s who had been a passenger aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship during a February voyage to Mexico. The man died Friday after being hospitalized for nearly three weeks, county health officials said.

Federal officials announced Thursday that two men who had traveled on the ship had died.

Thousands of passengers on the vessel were quarantined earlier this month after a passenger from a previous trip died and nearly two dozen passengers and crew tested positive for the virus.

The virus has taken an economic toll as well. Nationwide, more than 3.3 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. About a third of those claims are in California, where thousands of businesses have been forced to close.

On Wednesday, five of the nation's largest banks plus hundreds of credit unions and state-chartered banks agreed to defer mortgage payments for people affected by the virus. Newsom took that one step further on Friday by ordering a ban on all evictions for renters through May 31. The order takes effect for rents due on April 1. And it only applies to tenants who are not already behind on their payments.

Some banks are closing branches and consolidating locations to minimize the number of staff who must interact with customers, according to the California Bankers Association, which is encouraging people to conduct their banking online or through their bank's mobile app.