We’re now feeling the full fury of coronavirus and wildfire crises happening at the same time, and the state is scrambling to make sure COVID outbreaks don’t hit thousands of shelter evacuees.
The eerie, golden-greyish skies and terrible air for breathing are both inescapable signs that we’re enduring the intersection of wildfires and COVID-19, and this is indeed a calamity. But the state of California has been planning for this since the early spring, and despite the loss of so much land and horrible circumstances for beloved animals, early signs indicate we’re managing the coronavirus spread pretty well under the current circumstances. In today’s daily COVID briefing (which was mostly about a topic other than COVID), KCRA reports that Governor Gavin Newsom announced California coronavirus hospitalizations are down 20 percent over the last two weeks.
Newsom’s Monday briefing can be seen in full in the video above, and as usual, it starts with more than four minutes of dead air. But when Newsom does appear, he explains the very precarious difficulties of managing evacuation shelters while a viral pandemic is raging. Among other things, the shelters are enacting health screenings, mask requirements, social distancing, and cranking air purifiers inside the facilities.
“It’s not just cots and mats,” Newsom said Monday. “You’ll see tents inside of these facilities that allow us to cohort families and individuals.” There’s also more of a hotel lodging effort this year, as Newsom estimated about 1,500 evacuees had been placed in 600 hotel rooms statewide.
NEW: Gov. @GavinNewsom releases new #COVID19 numbers.— Chris Chmura ✈ (@Chris_Chmura) August 24, 2020
-4,946 new positives
-5,798 7-day avg
-Positivity 6.5% over 14 days
-Positivity 5.6% over 7 days
-4,467 COVID patients in hospital (trend downward)
-1,397 in ICU (trend downward)
-35 counties on watch list (Napa now off) pic.twitter.com/13eRaJTdDu
And there’s encouraging news on the infection rate front, even if the latest numbers have not yet caught up with the current reality. “The seven-day average [of positive tests] is continuing to trend downwards,” he said, noting the lower hospitalizations, and a decrease of nearly 1,000 cases in the latest batch of seven-day average results. A number of counties were removed from the coronavirus watch list, notably Napa County, but San Francisco and Alameda remain on it.
Yes, the fires are definitely affecting testing. “We’re experiencing some disruption related to the wildfires throughout the state,” according to Newsom. “We have 11 of our own state labs, our Verily and OptumServe labs that have been impacted very directly by the wildfires.”
So could this encouraging decrease just be a total undercount, marred by external factors? It might, but there’s good reason to think parts of the country are actually getting their shit together on this. A New York Times analysis today says it all in the headline: “Why Are Coronavirus Cases Decreasing? Experts Say Restrictions Are Working.” They argue that the big July surge offenders have lowered their infection rates, saying, “Of the states that are driving the decrease, all have at least some local mask mandates, and most have paused or reversed statewide reopening policies, again closing bars, gyms, and theaters.”
The main focus of Newsom’s address was the wildfires, and with excellent reason. As seen in the screenshot above from Monday’s briefing, as of today we’ve had more than 7,000 wildfires burn statewide in the year 2020, (625 currently burning, per Newsom’s update) with nearly a million and a half acres of California land burned. Most of that happened in the last two weeks. But compared this to the same date in 2019, last year we’d seen only 4,292 fires, and a mere 56,000 acres burned.
So yeah, when we joke about the awfulness of 2020, the numbers totally back that up. But on the encouraging side, we’ve suffered only 7 fatalities statewide from the current batch of fires, and the COVID infection and hospitalization rates are trending in a good direction. That could obviously change on a dime, but the current snapshot of reality indicates that unlike our federal counterparts, state and local officials here can capably walk and chew gum at the same time.
Screenshots: California Governor via Facebook