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California Surpasses New York In Total COVID-19 Cases

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

California has now overtaken New York in the total number of COVID cases any state has seen. The numbers are grim. And they've risen rapidly despite California taking some of the most aggressive steps in the country early on. We have NPR's Nathan Rott with us to talk about this. Hi, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So how bad are things in California?

ROTT: So we're setting all of the wrong kinds of records. The state just had its highest single-day count of new cases, nearly 13,000 people. It surpassed New York, as you mentioned, for having the most confirmed cases of any state in the country at more than 413,000. And hospitalizations, ICU patients all are at near record levels for the state. So things are really just trending in the wrong direction.

GREENE: After trending in the right direction. I mean, a lot of people looked at California as, like, the model for how to respond to a pandemic early on.

ROTT: Totally, you know? And, you know, perspective is important here. There are nearly 40 million people in California. You know, like, Los Angeles County alone has more people living in it than, I think, all but 10 states. So you know, of course the numbers are going to be higher there. And the state, you know, has increased its testing capacity. So they are finding more cases as a result of that.

But it's not just, you know, more tests, more cases, as some people have been arguing. You know, positivity rates - that is, you know, the current percent of people who are being tested that do have COVID-19 - has also gone up. It's only by a couple of decimal points, but that is still an area of concern.

GREENE: So what are officials doing to try and bring these numbers back under control?

ROTT: Well, they've already done quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. You know, they've shut down things that were open. There's no indoor dining in most of the state anymore. Gyms are closed, that sort of thing. During his press conference yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom gave pretty much the same message he and public health officials around the country have been giving for months - that is, wear a mask, maintain social distancing, do activities outdoors. And he said those simple things can really help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: We have agency. We can shape this conversation. We can shape the future by our specific decisions. And that is my hope and intention is that we bend the curve as we did the first time in this pandemic. And we do it again as we're dealing with this flare up.

GREENE: But Nate, aren't we already seeing that just those things aren't working? I mean, if they don't work, is the governor or others saying that, like, they just might have to go back into more of a lockdown mode?

ROTT: So that's definitely been a concern in many parts of the state, but particularly in Los Angeles County, which has been the hotbed of coronavirus cases in the state so far. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has been warning the city that it might return to some sort of stay-at-home order similar to the kind that it did implement in March - or, you know, in COVID time, 13 lifetimes ago. Remember that?

GREENE: Yeah.

ROTT: And, you know, yesterday, he said that still might happen. But nothing at this point is imminent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC GARCETTI: If we did see exponential or double-digit growth of some of those key indicators - hospitalizations, hospital capacity, positivity rates - if we saw what we're seeing in places like Phoenix or Miami, where there's 25-26% positivity, yes, of course, we'd have to consider those things.

ROTT: You know, but Garcetti sounded hopeful that they could avoid that just by taking those simple actions, wearing a mask and all that. It's worth noting, though, that more than half of the new cases in LA County the last few days have been people - what the county is generously calling young people, 41 and younger. So health officials are urging those people in particular to do their part, stay at home, even if they think they're healthy, to help people at at-risk populations.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Nathan Rott talking to us about the situation in California. Nate, thanks so much.

ROTT: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.