//Coronavirus cases climb, Bay Area counties pause reopening

Coronavirus cases climb, Bay Area counties pause reopening

a person holding a stop sign in front of a store: Toni Coleman passes a sign at Mercedes-Benz of Oakland on Friday, June 26, 2020, in Oakland, Calif.

Coronavirus cases in the Bay Area and across California climbed Monday after several days of record-breaking numbers, prompting two East Bay counties to pause reopening plans amid local surges and troubling jumps in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The state saw a new-record 7,888 cases on Monday, though that number was artificially high due to recent data collection problems and many counties not reporting cases over the weekend. The bulk of cases were in Los Angeles County, which reported a one-day record 2,878 cases to push past 100,00 total cases.

Nineteen counties — including Contra Costa, Santa Clara and, as of Monday, Solano in the Bay Area — that make up nearly three-quarters of the California population are now on a state watch list due to signs that the virus is spreading widely in the community and potentially threatening to overload local hospitals.

Clusters of cases from social gatherings, prison outbreaks, nursing homes and a general loosening of shelter-in-place restrictions are all responsible for the surge since California began reopening its economy more than a month ago, public health and political leaders said Monday.

Over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom advised or ordered bars closed in more than a dozen counties due to climbing case counts. On Monday, he suggested he might augment that order with “even more restrictive ones,” though he did not offer details.

“We are considering a number of other things to advance, and we will be making those public as conditions change,” Newsom said in a news briefing. “This is a dynamic process, not a static one.”

Newsom also advised that Imperial County on the Mexican border should reinstate shelter-in-place orders due to alarmingly high case counts and hospitalization reports. The county has been overwhelmed with cases, and Newsom said Monday that 500 patients had been transferred from hospitals there to other counties to relieve the local burden over the past couple of months.

The Bay Area so far is faring better than many other parts of the state. And California, despite stubbornly high case counts, is in less immediate trouble than some other states, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, where outbreaks are starting to crush hospitals.

More than 2.5 million people have been diagnosed with the virus in the United States and the daily case counts are higher now than ever before. On Monday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced he was shutting down bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks amid leaps in new cases and mounting pressure on hospitals.

California has 223,400 confirmed cases, and the Bay Area 24,475. Last week, the state reported several record-breaking days of new confirmed cases, and on Monday Newsom said the percentage of people testing positive had climbed to 5.9% — the highest level in months.

Los Angeles, in response to its sudden spike in cases and out of concern that the coming Fourth of July weekend would draw enormous crowds, announced it would close all county beaches from Friday to Monday.

The Bay Area daily average for new cases climbed over 500 for the first time last week. All nine regional counties have reported surges over the past week or two. On Monday, the region reported 600 new cases, though several counties recorded artificially high numbers due to weekend data collection issues.

Alameda and Contra Costa counties on Monday announced they were applying the brakes to reopening plans, which had been scheduled to move forward in both counties this week; the counties reported 33 and 169 new cases, respectively.

San Francisco and Marin counties announced delays to their reopening plans last week when they experienced sudden spikes in cases. Marin County reported 218 new cases Monday, though the vast majority were from an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison that has infected more than 1,000 incarcerated people.

Santa Clara County officials said they planned to issue a new health order this week with further reopenings, despite recent upticks in cases, including 103 new cases Monday. The county has been among the most conservative in the state when easing shelter-in-place restrictions.

Even as county officials said they would move forward, a spokesman warned that residents must be vigilant and wears masks, maintain social distancing practices and avoid nonessential outings. Young people in particular should be cautious, said Larry Little, spokesman for Santa Clara County COVID-19 emergency operations, because they are more likely to socialize and could infect other more vulnerable people in the community.

Statewide, the case counts are starting to be reflected in hospitalization numbers, which increased more than 50% over the past two weeks to a record-high 4,776 on Monday. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care jumped about 37%, Newsom said. The state still has plenty of availability, but some counties are starting to get uncomfortably close to capacity.

In the Bay Area, hospitalizations have similarly increased, about 45% over the past two weeks. About 350 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized — the most since the end of April. COVID-19 patients still make up less than 10% of all hospitalizations in the Bay Area.

The hospitalization increases, though, are not as dramatic as the recent spike in cases. And deaths have not increased at all in the Bay Area or in the state. Nearly 6,000 people have died of COVID-19 in California, including 572 in the Bay Area.

Public health experts said there are two likely reasons that hospitalizations and deaths haven’t kept up with the case counts.

First, the people testing positive now tend to be younger than those who were diagnosed two or three months ago, probably due to the economy reopening and people socializing more often. Young people are more likely than older people to be returning to work or testing the social waters, public health officials said. They’re also less likely to get sick enough to require hospitalization or die.

The second explanation is less optimistic — it’s possible that hospitalization and death reports simply haven’t caught up with case counts yet and those numbers will also climb in another week or two.

“It could be that the coming weeks we will see an increase in mortality,” said Art Reingold, an infectious disease expert with UC Berkeley. “But I also think that part of what we’re seeing with more cases is partly a function of more testing, and particularly testing of people who are younger and healthier. So shifting demographics certainly could account for rising numbers of positive individuals without concomitant increase in hospitalizations and deaths. But I think we’ll have to wait and see.”

Reingold and other infectious disease experts said if young people are carrying the virus, they could easily transmit it to more vulnerable groups. If that’s happening now, then those cases among grandparents or others who are at risk of serious illness may not show up in hospitalization or death reports for several more weeks.

“That’s what we’re concerned about,” Reingold said. “If the virus gets unleashed and is running rampant through generally younger, healthier populations, there will be adverse effects when they start transmitting to sicker, older people.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Alexei Koseff contributed to this report.

Erin Allday is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: eallday@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @erinallday