How California lost control of the pandemic

A sign outside of the Stanford Theatre announced its temporary closure in downtown Palo Alto on March 4, 2020. Photo by Nhat V. Meyer, Bay Area News Group

About two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom began easing California’s stay-at-home order — the country’s first, which cemented the Golden State as a national model — the state is monitoring 31 of 58 counties for concerning coronavirus trendlines. Bars and indoor restaurants are closing back down. Testing has re-emerged as a massive challenge. And hospitalizations have more than doubled since early June.

What went wrong? 

One big factor is that many Californians haven’t been wearing masks and avoiding crowds, UCSF professor of medicine Robert Wachter argues in the Atlantic. There was inconsistent messaging around masks, and when Newsom ordered all Californians to wear them, numerous county sheriffs said they wouldn’t enforce the order

Enforcement generally has been a major hurdle, in part because of confusing and mixed messaging. For example, the state abruptly told Alameda County on Friday it was no longer allowed to offer outdoor dining. Many frustrated businesses don’t plan to comply. (A similar fiasco happened last week in Santa Clara County.) 

  • Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci“I can’t help feeling sometimes that our residents wonder what in the world we’re doing, and this is a good example when we don’t always have the information either.”

Another factor: The state never got a handle on the disease, because it failed to provide adequate testing from day one, a Los Angeles Times investigation reveals

Newsom is set to unveil a new testing strategy today that includes increased testing in local labs and hospitals. But many of these systems also face a dearth of supplies, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports

  • Dr. David Witt, Kaiser Permanente’s national infectious disease leader: “There are not enough machines and equipment in existence to meet the current national and global need for diagnostic testing. … It is highly likely that testing will continue to be a challenge, one that is likely to get worse before it improves.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 320,804 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,017 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

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