California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide shelter-at-home order on Thursday evening, with all but essential functions to be shut down. The order is open-ended, he said.
The mandate is in response to state models that predict millions of potential infections in the next eight weeks. At last count, the state has more than 1,030 confirmed cases and had 18 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Under the grim projections, 56% of the state's 40 million Californians could become infected by the new coronavirus in the next two months. The 56%, which Newsom called an "attack rate," combines many levels of illness, including people who are asymptomatic, mildly ill or hospitalized.
An estimated 19,533 people could be hospitalized, he noted. As frightening as those numbers seem, Newsom said that scenario could be greatly reduced if people heed the order immediately and stay at home. "Flattening the curve" or the trajectory of infection would save many lives and reduce the intense pressure on the medical system, he said.
Working together, residents would not be "victims of circumstance" but have control over their fate.
"We want these numbers to be in the dustbin of history," he said.
State authorities are preparing for the worst-case scenario, however. Currently, California has 416 hospitals with 78,000 beds. The state can add more than 10,000 beds, but it would still have a 10,000-bed gap. It also needs an additional 10,000 personnel to staff those beds should the projected number of severely ill patients materialize.
The state is cobbling together resources to close the deficit: Today it secured Seton Hospital in northern California; tomorrow the state will announce which hospital in southern California it has secured, for a combined 750 beds. It is also looking at leveraging university and college dormitories through the University of California system.
Newsom said he spoke with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about setting up mobile medical and field units. The federal government is also freeing up stockpiles of protective medical gear, including glasses, gloves, masks and gowns.
The state had 21 million N-95 protective masks in its stockpile and has distributed 11 million to hospitals and other facilities. Authorities can distribute another 10 million from that cache. In addition, the first of four shipments from the national stockpile as promised by Trump are about to be delivered and distributed, and another order is on its way, he said.
California hospitals also have 7,587 ventilators. Another 514 are in the state's Department of Public Health cache, plus there are 200 in other caches, he said. The state has also ordered another 200 ventilators. Newsom said the state is also working with corporate leaders to repurpose manufacturing facilities to build additional units.
He did not mention the often-reported dearth of COVID-19 test kits or the progress of distribution of the kits and testing — a critical component of learning how many people are infected and where the virus is spreading. In California, 16,900 COVID-19 tests have been taken as of March 18 at 6 p.m., of which there were 6,300 results completed and the rest of which are still pending, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Newsom also touched on other critical needs the state is planning to address. The state will mobilize 500 members of the National Guard to distribute food to help make up for the manpower deficit from dwindling numbers of food bank volunteers.
Much of the focus of effort has been in urban areas hard hit by the virus, including Santa Clara County. Newsom said he plans to increase aid to other areas of the state, including possibly using resources from the Department of Defense in areas such as central California.
He also spoke in general terms about ways to enforce the stay-at-home order. At this time, compliance will not rely on law enforcement. Instead, social pressure and social awareness will be the dominant enforcement tool. The state and counties do have other means to push compliance: licensing and regulatory enforcement related to businesses, he said.
He said the state will also step up aggressive enforcement against xenophobia. In an allusion to racism against Asians, who are being targeted because the disease started in China, he recalled the dark history of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which he called "a black eye in the history of America."
Twenty-seven percent of the state's population is foreign-born, he noted. To address the challenges ahead, Californians must meet in a spirit of collective humanity and work together, he said.
In a statement issued Thursday night, Santa Clara County leaders were "pleased" by the news of Newsom's executive order.
"As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in our community and statewide, it is critical that all residents follow the direction of public health leaders to stay home except when necessary," the statement reads. "We urge all residents to comply with the restrictions in both the County and State orders. The County will continue to implement the County Health Officer's Order.
"Limiting interpersonal interactions is a proven strategy to protect the most vulnerable members of our community and slow the spread of the virus," according to the statement.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.