Another day, another opportunity for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to demonstrate stunning incompetence in its handling of California’s coronavirus crisis.
The Newsom administration announced that the state’s coronavirus emergency is so out of control that the “contact tracing” considered essential to halting the virus’ spread won’t be possible.
Newsom didn’t deliver the bad news himself. Instead, he skipped his usual “Newsom at Noon” press briefing and forced California’s Director of Public Health to make the dreadful announcement.
“California has too many COVID-19 cases to realistically investigate and trace each new infection, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
“At the level of transmission we’re seeing across the state, even a very very robust contact tracing team in every single county will have a hard time reaching out to every case,” Ghaly said . “No one has anticipated building a program to contact trace the level of cases we’re seeing here.”
Contact tracing is a process by which a trained team of investigators works to track down people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive. Those people are then quarantined in order to fight the virus’ spread.
On Thursday, a group of doctors and health experts urged Newsom to “hit the reset button” and order a new statewide shutdown in order to save lives.
“In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe,” said the letter, released by CALPIRG, a public interest group. “You didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly.”
The letter, signed by Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel and dozens of top health experts — including many from California — calls on Newsom to “shut it down and start over.”
“If you don’t take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread suffering and death,” the experts wrote.
Newsom made robust testing and contract tracing a central part of his strategy to reopen the state, since it has worked in other countries. In May, however, Newsom abandoned this strategy and allowed the state to rapidly reopen.
“A month into his stay-at-home order and under pressure to lift restrictions, Gov. Gavin Newsom drew a line in the sand: In order to safely reopen and suppress the coronavirus, California needed to be able to test everyone with COVID-19 symptoms and trace the contacts of confirmed cases,” wrote Taryn Luna of the Los Angeles Times in a story focused on Newsom’s reversal. “But three weeks later, Newsom began reopening businesses before meeting his own benchmarks.”
We now know the result of his actions. Infections and hospitalizations have spiked to such a degree that Newsom officials now say full contact tracing won’t be possible. To recap: Newsom’s abandonment of his own metrics for testing and contact tracing resulted in a coronavirus surge that now makes it impossible for California to test and trace at the level necessary to stop the virus.
No wonder Newsom didn’t have the guts to make the announcement himself.
Ghaly said the state had trained 3,600 contact tracers to help counties, but he said bureaucratic hurdles have prevented them from being deployed where they are needed. Even if they do finally get deployed, it’s not clear they’ll be able to do much amid California’s surging infections.
California now has over 417,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, and nearly 8,000 state residents have died of COVID-19. After successfully bending the curve in March and April, California has now overtaken New York as the state with the largest number of infections. And yet a quick tour of bars and restaurants in midtown Sacramento last weekend revealed large crowds of people socializing and drinking as if it were a normal summer afternoon rather than the peak of a deadly pandemic.
California doesn’t have the testing or contact tracing needed to safely reopen and infections are surging. How many Californians will die due to Newsom’s constant miscalculations? How long will it take to get children back into school without the basic ability to test and trace on the necessary scale?
“Leaving the big reopening decisions up to the counties clearly failed,” tweeted state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, who criticized Newsom’s decision to rush the state’s reopening back in May. “@GavinNewsom needs to reset the state’s role — expand his shelter-in-place order.”
Glazer was right in May, and he’s right now. Since Newsom can’t stomach the hard reality, perhaps he should appoint Glazer as the state’s coronavirus czar, charged with making the tough decisions necessary to save lives and get California out of this horrifying mess.
Or perhaps Newsom can just follow the advice of top health experts by reimposing the statewide shutdown instead of clinging to a “dimmer” strategy that appears to be resulting mostly in failure and death.
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