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Gov. Newsom says California must 'prepare for a surge' of coronavirus cases

While California may be flattening the curve, a surge in hospitalizations is imminent. Here's how the state is preparing for the onslaught.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Governor Gavin Newsom began his press conference on Wednesday morning with a number: 774. That's the number of people in California in ICU beds.

"That's the number that I wake up to that I'm most focused on as Governor of the state of California," Newsom said. "Those numbers represent our most urgent need in terms of keeping people alive and keeping people healthy and safe in the state of California. It is incumbent that we prepare for a surge."

Newsom says that a surge in the number of cases of COVID-19 will occur in the coming weeks, prompting a need for more hospital beds.

In the last six days alone, California has seen a quadrupling in the number of infected patients being admitted to the ICU with serious illness. The number of hospitalizations in California — 1,855 at the time of the governor's press conference —has roughly tripled in the last six days.

RELATED: Newsom not ready to be bearer of good news as California’s coronavirus curve bends

According to Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, "We would need 700,000 hospital beds at peak."

California is far from that number.

As such, Newsom urges everyone to stay at home and practice social distancing to limit the surge as much as possible. 

The governor also stated that California is working diligently to procure more beds. The state is preparing for a two-thirds increase in the number of hospital beds, while at the same time they are working to meet personnel and physical needs for medical professionals. 

In his update, Ghaly used a graph to show how California has been flattening the curve.

The graph shows the number of hospital beds for which California has the capacity during a surge (shown in the graph as "Phase 1 Surge Capacity.")

The dotted blue illustrates the projected number of hospitalizations should California not intervene in the COVID-19 crisis. The second line in purple is a projection of hospitalizations based on actual cases in the state.

The graph highlights the fact that although the trend of actual cases shows we have somewhat flattened the curve, California could potentially not have enough hospital beds around late May.

Credit: Office of the Governor of California
Projection of coronavirus hospitalizations in California.

"These should not give people immediate hope…we are doing about what we hoped and expected," Ghaly said.

He said that these models are highly variable and that "we are always at risk of having actuals exceed the model."

Ghaly said that the state will continue to share this model, showing in real time how Californians are flattening the curve and how close we are to reaching surge capacity. 

But Newsom did have some good news for residents during this time.

RELATED: Fresno’s doctor shortage just cost the county 100 coronavirus emergency hospital beds

Newsom shared another piece of good news during the conference: announced just two days ago, the California Health Corps has had over 34,000 people who have signed up to volunteer.

The California Health Corps is a group of medical professionals, working at additional health care sites to treat people affected by COVID-19 and to relieve the pressure on our health care system by providing care for non-COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, there have been a lot of questions about whether the general public needs to wear a mask daily to protect themselves from the conoravirus. Newsom said people can further protect themselves by wearing a mask, but it is not a substitute for practicing social distancing.

The CDC has not updated its guidelines on masks, and said that the only people who should be wearing a mask are those who are sick or caring for someone who is sick.

Dr. Sonia Angell, the state's public health officer, said that wearing a mask can help slow the spread of the virus but reinforced that people should not use a mask as their only way of protecting themselves.

"There is evidence that using face coverings may reduce asymptotic infections, and also it might signal to others that you may need to keep a little bit of distance," Angell said.

Still, Newsom said that Californians should not rush to the stores to buy N95 or surgical masks, because that would take away from healthcare workers who need masks.

"They are not a substitute for physical distancing," Newsom said. "They are not a substitute for a stay at home order. They are not a call to get folks to find N95 masks or surgical masks and pull them away from our first responders."



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