Coronavirus in California: State Could Take ‘Drastic Action’

Good morning.

There’s no way around it: California is in a bad spot, and things are likely to get worse before they get better.

The state’s intensive care units could be overloaded by the middle of December, and its hospitals could be dangerously close to full by Christmas, according to sobering projections Gov. Gavin Newsom presented on Monday.

And the strain could be even worse in the hardest-hit areas, like the San Joaquin Valley, which was projected to reach 83 percent of its hospital capacity by Dec. 24.

“If these trends continue, California will need to take drastic action,” Mr. Newsom said in a briefing, adding that more severe restrictions, including full stay-at-home orders, could come within the next couple of days.

[Track coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in California.]

Already, 99 percent of California’s residents are under the curfew in place for counties in the state’s most restrictive purple reopening tier. And other counties have gone even further. Los Angeles County has shut down outdoor dining, while Santa Clara County’s temporary ban on contact sports prompted the San Francisco 49ers to move its next two games to the home of the Arizona Cardinals.

California is just one of several states that had appeared to have gained control of the virus, only to see it spread rapidly throughout the fall. On Sunday it became the first state to record over 100,000 cases in just a week, according to a New York Times database.

[Read more about how the pandemic has upended football.]

A Covid-19 modeling team at the University of Arizona recently urged the state of Arizona to take action to stem hospitalizations or else “risk a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state would take a series of emergency actions as it faces a new “nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals.”

Officials had spent the weekend talking with local leaders and health care providers about their concerns, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services.

“Everything is on the table, in terms of how we guide the state through this,” he said. “And we want to make sure what we do is impactful and as time-limited as possible.”

[Get caught up on the latest California restrictions here.]

But unlike early in the pandemic, when just a few states bore the brunt, the tidal wave of cases slamming the entire country has limited the likelihood of aid from the federal government or other states, the governor said.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the United States for November surpassed four million on Saturday, more than double the record set in October.

By contrast, after three weeks of lockdown in England, the number of new cases has fallen 30 percent, according to new data.

[Build your own Covid dashboard to keep an eye on cases in places that are important to you.]

Mr. Newsom emphasized that California would be able to build on efforts that the state began earlier this year, including a registry of retired or part-time health care workers who would be willing to return to work. Eleven surge health care facilities could be prepared quickly to receive patients.

“We don’t anticipate this,” he said, referring to the alarming hospitalization figures. “I want folks to know we intend to bend this proverbial curve.”

The governor once again ran through a long list of measures he said the state had taken to get financial help to struggling residents and businesses.

And he added that vaccines could be available for some frontline health care workers as early as the middle of this month.

But he implored the federal government to send more relief.

“We need Congress to act with urgency,” he said.

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One question that continues to loom in the background as Californians navigate the latest Covid surge: Whom will Mr. Newsom choose to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate?

My colleagues and I reported that Secretary of State Alex Padilla is still the widely recognized front-runner. But the choice is fraught for the governor, who must balance competing, increasingly public pressures.

[Read the full story.]

I spoke to Sonja Diaz, who is founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles, about why she and others have called on the governor to choose the first Latino senator from a state that is 40 percent Latino.

What’s at stake, she told me, is not just representation of a massive and growing electorate. Choosing a Latino for one of the nation’s most powerful posts would be a first step in reversing decades of what she described as “willful neglect” by California’s politicians.

“The election of Biden and Harris ushers in a new era,” she said, “but it doesn’t negate that the home state of Vice President-elect Harris has never sent a Latino to the Senate.”

The last time California had a Hispanic governor was 1875, when Lt. Gov. Romualdo Pacheco served the remainder of another governor’s term.

[Read an interview with Robert Garcia, Long Beach’s mayor and a recently emerged contender.]

Now, Ms. Diaz said, as America’s white population ages and requires the services of people who are more often workers of color, it is imperative to have leaders who will fight for policies that will ensure those workers have equitable access to resources like education and health care.

That will be especially true after the pandemic, which has taken an outsize toll on Latino workers and communities, she said.

Put another way: “More Americans are codependent on a work force they refuse to invest in,” she said.

Ms. Diaz noted that the major political parties had effectively reached out to Latinos in other states and have yielded gains. She cited the Republican Party’s championing of Cuban-American leaders in Florida as an example.

[Read more about how Hispanic voters swung Miami right in the presidential election.]

By contrast, Ms. Diaz said that California’s power brokers, Democrats and Republicans alike, had consistently failed to elevate Latinos, like Cruz Bustamante. The state’s electorate has also supported anti-immigrant policies, like Proposition 187, which has been both credited with mobilizing Latino political activism, and blamed for creating a nativist road map for other states.

“If we’re being honest with ourselves, California has a role to play in the invisibility of Latinos,” she said.

Going forward, Ms. Diaz said, California should step into its role as a leader in changing the tide. The governor, she said, has an opportunity to choose a powerful “Latino figurehead,” who will be able to help grow a bench of Latino leaders around the country.

[Read more about the Senate vacancy and what it says about California.]

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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