California trying to prevent COVID-19 spread among fire evacuees, health secretary says

Dr. Mark Ghaly has been holding Tuesday press conferences in lieu of Gov. Gavin Newsom
SAN FRANCISCO -- The coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a threat to Californians' health, even as the state becomes focused on another crisis: massive wildfires.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Service Secretary, held a press conference Tuesday at noon with an update on the state's COVID-19 response. He said the state is focused on preventing virus spread among the 136,000 people who have evacuated their homes due to growing fires.


Of the 136,000 evacuees, about 3,000 are in shelters or hotels, Ghaly said. At congregate shelters, there are temperature checks, mandatory masks and physical distancing protocols in place.

For those not staying in shelters or hotel rooms, he acknowledged many are staying with friends or family they may not have seen for a long time. That poses an additional risk of COVID-19 exposure.

"This is no time to put down our guard," said Ghaly. "If you are staying with a family member or friend, follow as many of our precautions as you can."

That includes avoiding hugs -- something people might need when living through the stress of a wildfire evacuation.

We've learned and continue to learn that anything that any activities or actions that increase mixing among people who haven't been together in quite some time creates a transmission risk," said Ghaly. He said California has done what it can to try and mitigate that risk in evacuation areas, but still, "I won't be surprised if we have some increases in transmission in those areas because we're experiencing different conditions."


California has seen 663,669 COVID-19 cases to date and 12,134 deaths.

But California appears to be making continued progress against a summer surge of the virus. The seven-day positivity rate is at 5.7%. That number has been dropping slowly but steadily since it was stuck at around 7% for weeks in June and early July. Hospitalizations statewide have also dropped by 20% over the past two weeks, Gov. Newsom said Monday.

As coronavirus numbers drop, several counties have been removed from the COVID-19 watch list, including Napa and Orange counties. Newsom said more counties could be removed from the list this week.

Counties have to be off the watch list for two weeks before they're allowed to consider reopening schools for in-person instruction.
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