As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to steadily increase in Orange County, along with California, state public health officials are urging two-week quarantine for people who travel to the state.
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“California just surpassed a sobering threshold – one million COVID-19 cases – with no signs of the virus slowing down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Friday morning news release.
Local epidemiologists and state public health officials have been cautiously watching hospitalizations rise over the past two weeks, urging people to avoid private gatherings like parties and dinners.
County officials reported 244 people in the hospital with the virus and 95 of them in intensive care units as of Friday. Nearly 600 new Orange County cases were reported the same day.
While hospitalizations went down slightly from the day before, the number of those in serious condition, placed into intensive care units, went up from 89 people to 95 people.
Two more people were reported dead with the virus on Friday.
“Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians. Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives,” Newsom said.
UC Irvine epidemiologist Sanghyuk Shin said the second wave could be worse than the Summer wave.
“Especially as we head into the Fall and Winter, I think we can expect high risk. It’s troubling because clearly the infection is spreading and clearly cases and hospitalizations and ICU rates are escalating quite rapidly across the U.S. and in Orange County as well. It’s very troubling,” Shin said in a Wednesday phone interview.
The advisory, which is also adopted by Washington and Oregon, doesn’t apply for essential workers traveling to the state.
“Persons arriving in California from other states or countries, including returning California residents, should practice self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. These persons should limit their interactions to their immediate household. This recommendation does not apply to individuals who cross state or country borders for essential travel,” reads the advisory.
It also urges Californians to limit their travel out of state.
“Californians are encouraged to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countries. Avoiding travel can reduce the risk of virus transmission and bringing the virus back to California.”
Some parents have been driving their children to Airizona and Nevada to play youth sports games because California public health officials have yet to issue guidelines that allow for games. Instead, kids can only practice and have to stay 6-feet away from each other.
Meanwhile, OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett – who also serves as president of the state’s Association of Counties – said the county’s increasing caseload is likely to prompt a move back to the most restrictive tier, the Purple Tier as early as Tuesday.
“If you have been tracking the Covid numbers for OC our numbers have been increasing in several of the metrics like case count per 100,000. For several months now Orange County has been able to maintain its Red Tier status but that could change next Tuesday,” Bartlett said Friday.
All of Orange County’s neighboring counties are in the Purple Tier, with San Diego moving back to this past Tuesday.
A move back to purple means restaurants, movie theaters, churches and gyms would have to move their operations outside, essentially closing many of them down. It would also further restrict the number of people allowed inside retailers and malls.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, is expected to hold a noon news conference about the state’s worsening virus situation.
“There will be a Covid travel advisory issued from the state sometime today and I suggest tuning in as this may affect the holiday travel plans for our residents,” Bartlett said.
She also said OC’s hospitals still have room for patients.
“OC still has significant hospital capacity, meaning that our healthcare system is NOT being overwhelmed,” Bartlett said.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim is concerned about new cases from residents who travel outside of OC.
“Social gatherings are the greatest activity of risk. Particularly if people are traveling to other jurisdiction and gathering with new cohorts,” Kim said.
“We have seen a significant increase in new cases in Southern California, if we take precautions and follow the guidance from local and state health officials, we will reduce the significance of current trend,” he said.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio