Share on Pinterest
Experts say a major factor in California’s COVID-19 surge is that the people, especially in the southern part of the state, did not follow safety guidelines. Getty Images
  • Experts say the surge in COVID-19 cases in California happened because businesses reopened too soon and people did not follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • They note that Southern California is faring worse than Northern California.
  • They say California may have to lock down again if the rollback measures instituted by the governor the past month do not stem the tide.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

Remember back in March when California was the envy of the nation?

‪It was the first state to issue a shelter-at-home order.

‪It moved quickly to shore up its equipment, personnel, and resources in light of dire predictions of a looming COVID-19 crisis.

California was held up as something of a pandemic success story.‪

‪But the accolades may have been premature.

By Memorial Day, restrictions began to ease as restaurants and beaches opened back up.

Not long after, the numbers began to move in the wrong direction. In a few short weeks, California went from model state to COVID-19 hot spot.

‪Now California has more than 467,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, outpacing New York, the country’s one-time epicenter. Hospitalizations and death rates are also surging.

‪Last month California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order mandating that people wear a mask when in public.

In mid-July he began tightening the reins. He ordered a new statewide ban on indoor dining and movie theaters.

Now 37 of California’s 58 counties are on the state’s watchlist and have even more severe restrictions. Churches and gyms as well as hair and nail salons had to shut back down in those counties.

‪Experts tell Healthline that even with its plan to open in phases, California likely reopened too quickly.

However, the surges also had a lot to do with personal behavior.‪

‪”The governor of California, the health departments of California, many doctors including me, many academics including me, expected that the California population would behave more responsibly than it has,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, FACP, a clinical professor in the division of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California Berkeley-University of California San Francisco joint medical program.

‪”Somehow Californians don’t adequately understand we’re in a pandemic and how to act accordingly,” Swartzberg told Healthline.‪

‪”The governor did come out strong and mandated things that were unpopular. But I wonder historically if we’re going to see that he may have succumbed to pressure,” added Dr. Mauricio Heilbron, a trauma surgeon and vice chief of staff at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California.

‪”I think the governor may have trusted his public a bit too much,” Heilbron told Healthline.

‪”Opening up the bars was not a good idea. People packed the bars. There were parties and gatherings with no social distancing. Frat parties with nobody wearing masks,” noted ‪George Lemp, DrPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist and former director of the California HIV/AIDS Research Program at the University of California.

‪”Backyard barbecues and indoor family parties are happening, and people aren’t wearing masks,” Lemp told Healthline.

‪”And when the surge came, we didn’t have the needed testing capacity and contact tracing sufficiently in place,” he said. “The testing and contact tracing just couldn’t keep up.”

‪The experts say Southern California accounts for most of the COVID-19 cases.

Lemp crunched the numbers using data from the California Department of Public Health.‪

‪”Most of the cases, 68 percent, are coming from the Southland. The number one county is Los Angeles,” he explained.

‪”Why is Southern California doing so much worse than Northern California? Both are not doing well, but there is a big discrepancy in the state,” said Swartzberg.

‪”It’s difficult to speak to that, with the exception that in Northern California, culturally more people responded appropriately to public health dicta than Southern California,” he added. “Particularly in places like Orange County.”

‪Last month Orange County’s chief health officer resigned after receiving security threats in the midst of a controversy over her order to wear masks in public.

‪The county’s board of education has voted to reopen schools in the fall but not require masks or physical distancing.

‪”That’s utter madness,” said Heilbron. “As the father of a 17-year-old boy headed to high school, this is acutely personal to me.”‪

‪”We are in trouble and nobody’s doing anything about it right now. There is all this talk about shutting down again,” Heilbron said. “Let’s quit talking about it. It should have been done 10 to 14 days ago.”

‪Lemp says he doesn’t believe shutting back down is the answer.

‪”I think the number one thing would be if we can have people get effective masks and wear them properly, then they could move about,” he said.

‪Swartzberg says the state may have to wait a bit to see if the governor’s dialing back has worked.

‪”If what he did isn’t helping within the next week or two, he’s going to have to shut down the state,” he said. “If not, we will have more lives lost. Those are our choices.”

‪”This pandemic is a once in a century phenomenon. Everybody wants baseball, football, and other professional sports,” Swartzberg added. “Everybody wants the world to be what it was before the pandemic, but it’s not.”