With social distance, California’s virus forecast brightens

California’s top public health official said for the first time Friday the state’s coronavirus peak spread might not be as devastating as forecast, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said plans are being made for how to reopen the state.

But with Easter Sunday and sunny weather on the horizon, Newsom implored people to stay away from others to not undo the significant progress under his stay-at-home order. Across California, local government officials closed streets, parks and other public spaces to deter people from gathering.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said models state officials have created to track the virus had been showing a peak by the middle of next month but have been changing as people limited their movement.

“Our peak may not end up being as high as we actually planned around and expected,” Ghaly said. “The difference between what we are seeing today in our hospitals may not be that much different than where we are going to peak in the many weeks to come.”

California has more than 20,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 552 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, figures far lower than New York, where the infections have been most prevalent and deadly.

But the key figure for California officials is the number of hospitalizations, especially those people in intensive care, which is an indicator of how many hospital beds, staff and medical equipment the state needs.

On Thursday, ICU hospitalizations rose 1.1% after falling for the first time on Wednesday. Overall, 1,145 people were in intensive care statewide, leaving ample open space for new patients.

“When we are in single digits, low single digits, that’s a very good day,” Newsom said.

California was one of the first states to order residents to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus, forcing schools and nonessential businesses to close and residents to stay inside for more than a month.

Newsom offered hope Friday as he said his administration was preparing “detailed strategies” about the best way to get the state back up and running

“Nonetheless, that will be fundamentally determined on the basis of your individual behavior. No one can impact this more than you,” he said. “Your decision will determine what the state and federal government do in this respect.”

The virus is still dangerous and can spread rapidly. More than 1,200 people at 191 skilled nursing facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, Newsom said. Another 370 people are infected at 94 residential care facilities.

Some patients got the virus after being treated at local hospitals, Newsom said. On Friday, the governor announced a U.S. Naval hospital ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles would begin prioritizing treatment for nursing home patients who have not tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This is a generation that not only won wars, but built the largest and most vibrant middle class,” Newsom said. “We need to be there for them in their time of need.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco reported an outbreak in its largest homeless shelter. Mayor London Breed said 709 people at MSC_South in the city’s South of Market neighborhood tested positive, including two workers.

Officials had expected an outbreak, but that did not lessen the fury from advocates who point out city shelters don’t have thermometers and did not separate beds until well after the pandemic had started.

“We’ve been yelling and screaming for a month to get people out of these crowded shelters and protect people,” Supervisor Matt Haney posted on Twitter.

The shelter, which as 340 beds, will be converted into a medical facility, and many of the people who contracted the virus will stay there, said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s public health director. They are in good condition, he said.