Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered all 40 million Californians to stay at home except for certain “necessary activities.” It’s the most far-reaching action against the coronavirus of any state and Newsom gave no indication when the restrictions would end.
More than 1,000 citizens have tested positive for the virus with 19 dead. Newsome said that in the next 8 weeks, 25 million Californians will be at risk of becoming infected.
The extraordinary action comes as Newsom offered a grim projection about the toll the novel coronavirus might take on California. He asked Congress on Thursday for $1 billion in federal funds to support the state’s medical response to COVID-19, which he said he expects will infect more than half of all Californians.
The state projects that 25.5 million people in California will be infected over an eight-week period, Newsom said in a letter sent to President Trump on Wednesday requesting the deployment of the U.S. Navy’s Mercy hospital ship to the Port of Los Angeles through Sept. 1.
At a modest mortality rate of one percent, that’s 25,000 deaths.
But it’s still not clear if everyone who tests positive actually shows symptoms, nor does anyone know yet how long someone who tests positive is contagious. That’s why they call it a “novel” coronavirus. It’s a brand new virus and researchers are still trying to unlock its secrets.
That’s not going to help California.
“We’re going to keep the grocery stores open,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that you’re getting critical medical supplies. You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog.”
No time frame was set for when the order would end. It was unclear exactly how far the order would reach in communities where some operations, such as schools, have not been closed down.
Officials hope telling people to stay home and restrict social interactions will slow the spread of the virus and ultimately prevent hospitals from being overrun with sick patients. The demand of all residents to stay at home marks the strongest escalation of the Newsom administration’s response to the virus and an unprecedented action in modern California history.
Was this really necessary? If you believe that 25 million Californians are going to test positive in 8 weeks, it probably is.
But how realistic is that 25 million number?
The tens of millions of COVID-19 cases the Newsom administration is modeling represent an exponentially faster rate of spread than has been seen in other countries. Worldwide, there are about 245,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections since the outbreak began late last year.
Though testing in California and the United States is still in its beginning phases, reaching 25.5 million positives in eight weeks would exceed even Italy’s rate of infection, where about 600 people per each 1 million have tested positive, though that rate is still in flux.
Using Italy’s rate of infection, that’s about 24,000 infections, not 25 million.
Dr. Karen Smith, a communicable disease expert and former director of the California Department of Public Health, said it’s difficult to determine how many people will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 because so much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus.
Could Newsom be goosing the number of positives to get people to shelter in place? The fact that his office isn’t giving a very good explanation for how they got to the 25 million positives may or may not be telling. Newsom wouldn’t be the first politician to be presented with several estimates and choose the most dire. He can always claim he had to act on the worst-case scenario or face possible catastrophe. But being overly cautious when you’re about to total the world’s sixth-largest economy might not be the best course of action.
I think Trump will resist ordering a national lockdown. The spread of the virus has been very uneven and many states put in place excellent containment policies before the pandemic got out of hand. We’ll know a lot more once large-scale testing is underway.