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Coronavirus in California: Covid-19 and Antibody Testing

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Good morning.

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It’s Friday. The weather has been beautiful. Beaches and parks beckon.

But on Thursday, in the wake of the state’s deadliest day yet, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Californians not to give into the temptation to gather, even outdoors.

“Let’s not dream of regretting,” he said. “Stay home to the extent possible.”

Over the previous 24 hours, he said, California saw 115 Covid-19 deaths. That brought the total number of those lost — each one representing, as Mr. Newsom has repeated in his daily news briefings, an individual and a family “torn asunder” — to 1,469.

[See every coronavirus case in California by county.]

While Mr. Newsom noted that the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care had decreased slightly from the day before, he said that the number of deaths should serve as a warning.

He also addressed local leaders who have been asking for specific dates that the state will ease orders to stay at home, asking them for patience.

“It’s not a date, it’s an indicator,” Mr. Newsom said, referring to the list of six broad measures his office laid out last week that will determine when it will be safe to ease some restrictions.

[Read more about what to watch for in coronavirus statistics.]

Earlier this week, he announced the first modest step in that direction: Hospitals would again be scheduling what are called elective procedures, but are often medically necessary procedures such as tumor removals.

But he said that before broader orders could be lifted, testing capacity must be significantly expanded.

Here’s what you need to know:

How many tests are we doing per day right now? And how many do we need to be doing?

As of this week, Mr. Newsom said that, on average, 16,000 Covid-19 tests were conducted per day across the state. By the end of the month, he said officials are planning for that to increase to 25,000 per day.

But in order to consider reopening, the state will have to more than double that to between 60,000 and 80,000 tests per day.

And Mr. Newsom said on Wednesday that he hoped to “blow past” that number, to hundreds of thousands of tests per day.

All of this depends on being able to get enough swabs in particular. That has been, and continues to be, the biggest challenge. Mr. Newsom said President Trump had committed to sending 100,000 swabs this week, another 250,000 and then more after that.

Can I get tested?

It depends.

Mr. Newsom announced this week that California would become the first state to recommend that even some people without Covid-19 symptoms be tested for the illness if they work or live in higher risk environments, like hospitals or nursing homes.

So if you have only mild symptoms and don’t have other risk factors like a chronic medical condition and you’re not 65 or older, it may still be tough to get a test. (In that case, you should try to isolate yourself anyway.)

Where can I get tested?

There are about 600 testing sites around the state, including at hospitals, commercial labs, clinics and drive-throughs.

Mr. Newsom said there were plans to add 86 new sites, prioritizing underserved, vulnerable “black and brown communities,” where the nearest testing site may be too far away.

A heat map of testing sites across the state shows that pockets of the Central Valley, a broad stretch along the Nevada border and parts of Northern California near the Oregon border are “testing deserts.” Some dense urban neighborhoods also lack accessible testing.

In short, the situation is moving quickly, so check with your health care provider about whether and where to get tested, if you can.

What about antibody testing? How does that fit in?

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There is a lot of excitement and speculation around antibody testing and, experts say, for good reason: The tests are fast and, if they work, can help identify people who have already had the virus, even if they never had symptoms.

Mr. Newsom said the state had made a deal to get more than a million antibody tests from the company Abbott Laboratories.

Also, antibody tests have been used in two recent high-profile studies in California that have suggested many more people than previously known have been infected. Those studies have faced criticism from other experts for their methods.

Still, Dr. Rekha Murthy, an executive and expert in testing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said the information researchers can get from antibody tests was valuable in putting together the puzzle of how the virus works, who is vulnerable, when and why.

“Each one of these provide little bits of information,” she said. “Even if we’re still not able to draw any major conclusions that would result in changes and actions.”

We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.

  • Bill Johnson, the chief executive of Pacific Gas & Electric, said he will retire at the end of June, after seeing the troubled utility through its bankruptcy. When the company announced his hiring last May, it did not suggest his tenure would be short. [The New York Times]

  • “Teachers are actually working harder right now than they ever have.” The pandemic is requiring more and more from teachers — many of whom are caring for their own kids. Unions are starting to push back. [The New York Times]

  • The McFarland City Council agreed to allow a private prison company to convert two of its facilities in the small Central Valley city into immigrant detention centers. [The Bakersfield Californian]

The move granted an appeal by the company after community members successfully opposed an initial proposal. Read more about the fight here. [The New York Times]

  • How are people flying right now? [The New York Times]

  • San Clemente filled up a skate park with sand as part of its stay-home order. So dirt bikers took over. [CNN]

  • The pandemic has turned Los Angeles into a walking city. It’s powerful to see, but an artist wishes the appeal of traversing L.A. on foot weren’t tied to a global calamity. [The New York Times]

The Times is hosting a virtual event called “A Tale of Two States.” The Times’s San Francisco and Albany bureau chiefs, Thomas Fuller and Jesse McKinley, will talk about the reasons for California’s relative success and New York’s struggles. The conversation will be hosted by Kirsten Danis, deputy Metro editor.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.





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