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California Seeing Rapid Rise In COVID-19 Cases


There were a record number of daily deaths due to coronavirus in California this week. And with roughly 300,000 cases across the state and a surge of hospitalizations, some ICUs are close to capacity. Dr. Sonia Angell is director of California's Department of Public Health, and she joins us from Sacramento. Dr. Angell, thanks so much for being with us.

SONIA ANGELL: It's a pleasure to join you today.

SIMON: I have to ask you, Doctor, what happened in California? The state acted so quickly and decisively in the early days.

ANGELL: We did call for a statewide stay-at-home order. That was back in March. And since then, we have continued to use data and evidence to guide our decision-making. So at the end of May, we really realized that we had stabilized and actually bent the curve, and we made some very thoughtful decisions to begin to reopen but in a way that would reduce the risk of exposure for individuals outside of the home. But we always were very clear that as long as COVID-19 is in our community and we do not have the level of immunity necessary that everyone would still remain at risk.

And what we're learning is it just didn't happen that way - that people started to gather when they shouldn't be gathering, and that's led to what we see now as this increasing number of cases that is of particular concern.

SIMON: Dr. Angell, with respect to Californians, did too many people in your beloved state just do things that weren't in their best interests?

ANGELL: People are social creatures. We all want to see and spend time with one another. I think there's no finger-pointing at any one individual. I think collectively, all of us just need to change the way we are reacting and responding to each other and the way that we keep in touch and care for each other. And that means that we spend time further apart for longer periods of time. And when we do come in contact with one another, we do things that help protect one another, and that means that we wear face masks and we keep a physical distance as we're having that conversation and catching up.

SIMON: People are lining up at Disneyland this week. Has that been a good idea to reopen?

ANGELL: So the openings that are occurring are very specific, like restaurants. And in our restaurants, it's the outdoor dining. So there's elements of different areas that are opening across the state that have been allowed to open by counties, but those are also being modified. So these are not people lining up to get on rides together.

SIMON: Governor Newsom recently ordered the re-shutdown, if I might put it that way, of restaurants and other public spaces in several counties. What are you confronting now?

ANGELL: We have had a recognition that when people move more, if the rates of infection start to increase, we will be willing to start to pull back some of the open sectors. And that's exactly what we did this past week. We put into a public health order that did, indeed, close bars and modify restaurants and other types of places where people gather, like family entertainment, wineries, and made those places still able to operate but only if the activities were brought outside.

SIMON: Dr. Angell, what can the rest of the country learn from California?

ANGELL: This is a pandemic. And this is a new experience for all of us across the country. And this is a rapid learning environment for us. It's an exchange of ideas, of information and of data, and that's happening in real time. I think we're all learning from each other how important it is to really acknowledge that COVID-19 is here for the long term. So we need to be comfortable with them. We need to be very proactive about reinforcing a lot of these nonpharmaceutical interventions. And we really need to take COVID-19 seriously.

SIMON: Dr. Sonia Angell is director of California's Department of Public Health. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANGELL: It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.

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