California Warns of Virus Uptick, Names Vaccine Ethics Panel

In this Sept. 2, 2020, file photo, a student receives a temperature check before leaving the car to enter STAR Eco Station Tutoring & Enrichment Center in Culver City, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

California has seen an uptick in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and intensive care admissions in the last two weeks, prompting renewed warnings Tuesday from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's top health official even as newly confirmed cases remain well below the recent surge across much of the nation.

While officials set up a panel that will determine who gets vaccinated once one is available, progress remained such that the state allowed seven more counties to advance to fewer business restrictions under its four-tier color-coded system. Still, three big Southern California counties including Los Angeles remain mired in the most restrictive purple category with widespread transmissions.

Los Angeles County’s health department issued an official public health advisory and a set of safety tips aimed at fans of baseball's LA Dodgers ahead of Tuesday night’s World Series game six against the Tampa Bay Rays. It included a set of safety tips urging fans to celebrate at home or take particular precautions if they gather in groups.

The county’s public health director on Monday said fans gathering to watch and celebrate professional sports appear to have contributed to an increase in average daily cases in October from about 940 per day to nearly 1,200 per day.

The county said Tuesday that contact tracing over the last three weeks found 55% of those who knew of a possible exposure to the coronavirus had attended an event or gathering where two or more people were sick.

Statewide, hospitalizations increased 4.7% over the last 14 days and intensive care cases are up 5.9% over the same period. That contrasts with more than a month of double-digit declines in both categories after the state retrenched this summer and began what officials call a “slow and stringent” approach to reopening businesses.

“Now you’re seeing modest increases as we reverse that a little bit," Newsom said. "We’re watching this closely.”

The numbers are still well below where the state had been when cases spiked this summer, and there is ample treatment capacity, he said.

As one result, seven of the state's 58 counties advanced to allowing more businesses to reopen with fewer restrictions because they have reduced virus transmissions, increased testing and maintained hospital capacity.

Glenn and Mendocino counties moved from the most restrictive purple category to red.

Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties moved from red, which means there is “substantial” transmission, to the orange “moderate” category.

And Calaveras County moved to the least restrictive yellow tier.

The state recently said it will work more intensively with Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties to help some of the state's most populous counties advance out of the most restrictive category, but they have shown little progress.

The state also is naming a new 16-member ethics advisory task force to help develop standards for how an anticipated early limited supply of vaccines would be distributed.

The new task force adds to a recently named task force of experts from the state's top universities that Newsom said must sign off on the safety of any federally approved vaccine before it can be distributed in California.

Washington, Oregon and Nevada announced Tuesday that they have joined California’s “scientific safety review workgroup” and will lend their own experts to sign off on the safety of any vaccine before it is made available to the public in any of the Western states.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said the goal of the expert advisory panels is not to delay distribution of the vaccines, but to speed them in part by building community trust.

The related ethics panel, Ghaly said, will “really talk about some of those hard questions about when we only have handfuls of doses, who should get them.”

Four counties in the greater Bay Area moved into a less-restrictive coronavirus reopening tier Tuesday, allowing them to reopen more businesses and expand indoor operations for already-open businesses like restaurants and religious facilities. Bob Redell reports.

Newsom said he plans to highlight on Friday a new testing agreement worth up to $1.4 billion with Massachusetts-based diagnostics company PerkinElmer that he previously said will double the state's virus testing capacity and speed results while substantially reducing cost.

Kaiser Health News, meanwhile, reported Alameda and San Francisco counties have ended their ties with another company, Google-affiliated Verily, after the state announced $55 million in contracts with the firm in March.

County officials cited privacy concerns and complaints that money intended to ensure testing in poor and underserved communities was instead going to wealthier areas.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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