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California death toll tops 14,000, but new coronavirus cases continue to decline

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, shown in April, urged wildfire evacuees to wear masks and take other coronavirus precautions.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California officials on Thursday reported that more than 14,000 residents have died of COVID-19, but that new coronavirus cases continued to ebb statewide.

The cumulative death toll rose to 14,021, up by 31 from Wednesday, but overall the state has seen deaths flatten out and new reported cases trend downward. The seven-day average of new cases on Wednesday stood at 3,742, according to data compiled by The Times — the first time new cases dropped below 4,000 since June 21.

New cases have declined substantially since July 27, when the state recorded nearly 11,000 of them.

The state has averaged 93.1 deaths a day over the last seven days, hospitalizations have declined, and the 14-day positivity rate is now at 4%, state officials said.

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Turnaround times for coronavirus tests also have declined. Dr. Erica Pan, acting state public health officer, said during an online news conference that laboratories were now producing test results in an average of 1.3 days.

“We have made a great deal of progress,” she said.

Outbreaks on work sites in Los Angeles County, including warehouses and retailers, spiked in July but are now abating, Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County health officer, said during a news conference.

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The county sent inspectors to 331 businesses, including restaurants, markets, hair salons and barbershops over the Labor Day weekend and found “reasonably good compliance” with health rules, Davis said.

“But not everyone is at 100%,” he said. Hotels need to improve on ensuring patrons wear face coverings and restaurants on keeping customers six feet apart, he said.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced that the city was accelerating its reopening and would permit indoor personal services and indoor gyms with limited capacity starting Monday.

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“I’m so glad we can move forward earlier than expected to reopen more businesses that have been closed since March,” Breed said in a statement. “These businesses have been struggling, and starting Monday, they’ll finally be able to serve customers again, with the necessary safety precautions and modifications in place.”

Businesses that will resume indoors with limitations include hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and massage services in addition to fitness centers.

The city has decided to follow its local health indicators rather than reopen whatever the state permits.

“We will continue our gradual reopening as it allows us to monitor the spread, manage its immediate challenges and mitigate the long-term impact on our city,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s public health director. “Our reopening pace continue to be informed by our ability to manage the risk of more activity that may result in more cases and hospitalizations.”

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Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, speaking at the state news conference, expressed concern about the health of wildfire evacuees who may be seeking shelter with family and friends.

He urged them to wear masks where they are staying, remain distant from others and avoid sharing tables or utensils with people not from their immediate household.

Ghaly also commended Los Angeles County for issuing guidance on trick-or-treating this Halloween — the county recommends against it — and said the state is developing its owns recommendations. “It is something that has been squarely on our minds,” he said. He warned that this year’s Halloween will be quite different from those of past years.

Both state and L.A. County officials asked residents to remain vigilant about wearing masks, distancing and washing their hands. State officials noted that local health officers have been under enormous pressure during the pandemic.

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“We need to come together as a community,” Pan said. “We have seen so much divisiveness.”

On other COVID-19 matters, the California Supreme Court refused to overturn Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directives limiting in-classroom instruction to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The state’s highest court rejected without comment lawsuits brought by the Orange County Board of Education and others to reopen schools statewide.

Robert Tyler, one of the lawyers who brought the cases, said the legal fight was not over.

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“It simply means that we will have to start the litigation by filing our claims in the Superior Courts because the court is not willing to permit this case to skip the lower courts,” Tyler said. “Once we proceed through the normal process, we believe we will still be victorious in the end.”

Orange County has moved into Tier 2 of the state’s monitoring system, which gauges a county’s ability to reopen more fully. The reclassification allows for more businesses — including movie theaters, restaurants and places of worship — to ease restrictions and open in limited capacity.

State officials have also told Orange County it is eligible to reopen schools Sept. 22.


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