Most big California counties are not close to meeting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strict standards that would allow a wider reopening of the economy, including dine-in restaurants and shopping malls, a Times data analysis found.
Newsom announced Thursday a series of benchmarks each of California’s 58 counties would need to reach to significantly reopen faster than the statewide standard. Can the county show that people have stopped dying from the coronavirus? Have new cases fallen to a manageable level? Can officials adequately test people? Do they have enough detectives to track down newly infected people? And do they have enough medical supplies?
The Times conducted an analysis to see which counties could pass just the first two criteria — whether deaths have stopped in the past 14 days, and whether there is no more than one case per 10,000 residents in that same time period. Most of California failed that test.
In fact, 95% of Californians live in counties that don’t meet that standard, The Times analysis found. Not a single county in Southern California nor the San Francisco Bay Area met the criteria.
The 24 counties that did meet the criteria, for the two-week period that ended on Thursday, are all in Northern California and most are sparsely populated.
The three largest counties meeting both criteria are Placer County, population 380,000, northeast of Sacramento; Santa Cruz County, population 274,000, south of San Jose; and Butte County, population 227,000, in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada.
With the exception of Santa Cruz County, all 24 counties are located north of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and the Yosemite Valley.
Only 2 million of California’s 39.1 million residents live in these counties.
The failure of most California counties to meet the criteria demonstrates just how persistent the coronavirus is in the Golden State’s most populous areas. The Times analysis found that 92% of Californians live in counties that in the last two weeks have recorded at least one death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Los Angeles County, California’s most populous and home to one-quarter of the state’s population, has suffered the highest death toll of any county for the last two weeks. Its 622 deaths were 61% of all the deaths recorded in California from COVID-19 during that time period. On Friday, officials announced another 51 deaths.
On Friday, the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, acknowledged that it is going to take time for big counties like Los Angeles to reach Newsom’s criteria of no deaths, especially compared to smaller regions that have not been as hard hit. But she said it was also essential that areas where coronavirus was spreading not relax the stay-at-home rules too quickly.
Riverside County comes up second, recording 92 fatalities in the past two weeks. Riverside County’s health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser has been locked in a contentious standoff with some members of the county Board of Supervisors who are demanding he rescind orders requiring people to wear facial coverings in public and stay at least six feet away from others.
Nine other counties had death toll in the double digits over the last two weeks: San Diego County, with 65; Santa Clara County, 32; Orange County, 30; San Bernardino County, 31; Alameda County, 21; San Mateo County, 17; Tulare County, 18; Stanislaus County, 14; and San Francisco, 11. In all, there were 26 counties that have reported at least one death in the past two weeks, in counties home to 36 million people.
Eight counties — with a combined population of 1 million — have met the standard of no deaths in the last two weeks, but have rates of new cases higher than the state’s cutoff for a speedier reopening. The worst hit county in this category is Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, with 13 new cases per 10,000 residents — just above L.A. County’s rate of almost 12 cases per 10,000 residents in the past two weeks.
Kings County is the site of a large coronavirus outbreak at a meat packing plant in Hanford, where at least 138 have been infected, according to the Fresno Bee.
The others with disease rates that exceed the state standard include Mariposa County, home of Yosemite National Park, with eight new cases per 10,000 residents. Three other counties have between two and three new cases per 10,000 people: Mono County, home to the Mammoth Mountain ski area; San Luis Obispo County on the Central Coast, and Merced County in the San Joaquin Valley.