By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California’s Santa Clara County, the technology hub hit hard by some of the first American cases of the coronavirus, dramatically slowed the illness with early and aggressive shelter-at-home rules, public health officer Sara Cody said on Tuesday.
The county of about 2 million people, located south of San Francisco, was initially on track to develop an estimated 50,000 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus ravaging communities across the globe, by May 1. It now may have just 2,500 to 12,000, Cody told a meeting of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.
The number of cases has gone from doubling every three days in early March, to now doubling approximately every two weeks, she said.
“The trend is exactly what we want to see,” Cody said. “We are slowing things down.”
Pushed by Cody, six San Francisco Bay Area counties on March 16 ordered residents to stay home for all but essential needs. Three days later, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a similar order statewide.
Those actions, the most restrictive clamp-down up to that point in the United States, helped slow the virus’ progress in the most populous U.S. state, giving hospitals and medical teams time to prepare for an expected onslaught of sick patients needing hospital beds, intensive care and ventilators to help them breathe.
CURVE RISING MORE SLOWLY
The few extra days that residents of Santa Clara — which is home to the headquarters of Apple, Google and Facebook, among others — and the other San Francisco Bay Area counties had to shelter in place may help explain why the virus’ onslaught in the heavily populated region appears to have slowed earlier than in hard-hit Los Angeles County in Southern California.
By Tuesday morning, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the four other Bay Area counties reported 3,532 cases of COVID-19 in a population of about 6.7 million, or about one in every 1,900 people. In Los Angeles County, with a population of about 10 million, 6,391 people have tested positive for the disease, about one in every 1,600 people.
The disease has progressed more slowly in California than in New York state, where 140,086 infections have been confirmed even as the steep rise in cases appeared to plateau on Tuesday.
In California, 15,865 people had tested positive for COVID-19 by Tuesday morning, a 10.7% increase over the previous day. But the number of people who were hospitalized increased just 4.1% from the prior day to 2,611, and the number in intensive care increased just 2.1% to 1,108.
“The curve continues to rise but now it is slower,” Newsom said.
Cody said it would take more than an apparent slowing of cases to persuade public health officials it was time to ease social restrictions.
Before that can happen, hospitals across the county would need to have enough beds and ventilators for all patients. Testing and public health tracking needs to be broadly available. And the number of new cases has to decline steadily over a period of at least two weeks, she said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)