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California prepares for coronavirus surge in week ahead

Daisy Nguyen and Stefanie Dazio
Associated Press

Los Angeles — Californians endured a weekend of stepped-up restrictions aimed at keeping them home as much as possible while hospitals and health officials scrambled Sunday to ready themselves for a week that could see the feared dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.

Testing among the state’s 40 million residents has stepped up significantly after a slow start. Officials have warned the increase will bring with it a rapidly expanding number of cases. A tally by Johns Hopkins University found more than 5,700 cases statewide and more than 120 deaths.

California was stocking up on ventilators and fixing outdated ones in anticipation of a shortage at hospitals in the coming days. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that federal government sent 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Engineers at Bloom Energy, a fuel cell maker in San Jose, were racing to refurbish the ventilators and have them sent to Southern California by Monday.

In Southern California, people were kept off beaches and hiking trails that normally would have been swamped with visitors during this sunny weekend. A stay-at-home order restricts people to all but essential outside activities such as buying food and including only outdoor exercise such as walking or running near home that doesn’t put them within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of another person. Officials closed California’s 280 state parks to vehicular traffic on Sunday, citing overcrowding.

“We need all Angelenos to respect these orders, so we can slow the spread of COVID-19,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a tweet. “Do your part. Your city is counting on you. Lives depend on us staying safer at home.”

Meanwhile, cloudy, drizzly weather in Northern California may have led many to stick to the order. Those measures could be tested soon with dry, warm weather forecast for the coming week.

San Francisco’s subway and light rail system will be closed beginning Monday, with buses replacing light rail service. Rail ridership dropped by more than 90% when the city virtually came to a standstill.

The nearly 650 cases reported by officials in Santa Clara County — the epicenter of the Bay Area’s outbreak — on Sunday are more than double than the county had last week. Twenty-five people have died of COVID-19 in the county.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Senior homes in Burbank and Yucaipa reported three deaths this weekend in potential outbreaks.

Vernon Robinson, a resident of the Alameda Care Center in Burbank, died Thursday in the hospital after his wife, Willa, said he had tested positive for COVID-19. The 81-year-old had Alzheimer’s disease and underlying heart and lung conditions.

“That’s not the way I wanted him to leave here,” Willa Robinson, 71, told The Associated Press. “He deserved more.”

Elizabeth Tyler, who represents both assisted-living facilities separately as a media consultant, said two residents have died from COVID-19 at the Alameda Care Center. She said five other residents and 10 employees have also contracted the virus.

Tyler said the Burbank nursing home had taken the two residents who died to the hospital for symptoms that were believed to be related to other health issues. She said once the facility learned of the positive tests, families of the other residents were contacted.

Further east in Yucaipa, a city of about 53,000 in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, Tyler said an 89-year-old woman who lived at the Cedar Mountain Post Acute nursing home died from the virus Thursday.

San Bernardino County public health officials said 12 elderly residents at the home have tested positive in the county’s first cluster of COVID-19 outbreak.

Acting County Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson said in a statement that officials were working to test residents and employees at the facility, but did not specify how many people live and work there.

The U.S. had over 130,000 infections and 2,300 deaths, according to the latest tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher because of testing shortages and mild illnesses that have gone unreported.

The government’s top infectious-disease expert warned Sunday that the coronavirus outbreak could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans as smoldering hotspots in nursing homes and a growing list of stricken cities heightened the sense of dread across the country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the dire prediction of fatalities on CNN, adding that millions in the U.S. could become infected.

Willa Robinson said she last saw her husband healthy on March 13 — the day before the nursing home prohibited visitors. She brought him his favorite meal of baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and carrots and left with their customary farewell.

“I love you,” she told him. “I love you more,” he replied.

She sat outside his hospital room Monday for two hours and watched through a glass window as he struggled to breathe. “I just prayed and asked God to get him out of his misery,” she said.

He died early Thursday morning. Now she must mourn her husband of 55 years alone in quarantine.

“Nobody can come to me,” she said.