California orders more body bags — and begins a campaign on vaccine safety

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a public vaccine campaign to reach Californians in 13 different languages Tuesday but warned that the state is still facing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

He said the state recently purchased 5,000 additional body bags to be distributed in San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo counties, and that 60 refrigerated storage units are currently standing by in case they are needed for overflow from hospitals and county morgues.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” Newsom said at a Tuesday press conference. “That means we’re going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of the pandemic.”

On average, 163 Californians died daily over the last 7 days, Newsom said. That average was 41 deaths in November.

“This is a deadly disease,” he said. “We are not at the finish line yet.”

Nine months into the global health crisis, California’s health care workers at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Monday received the state’s first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine will be distributed in phases, prioritizing critical health care workers and long-term care residents.

On Monday afternoon, Newsom took to Twitter to announce the state is expecting to receive 393,000 more doses from Pfizer next week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also anticipated to approve a second COVID-19 vaccine by Moderna in the next few days. If approved, California could see an additional 672,000 doses from Moderna by the end of December, according to Newsom.

In total, California is expected to receive 2.1 million doses before 2021. California is home to an estimated 2.4 million health care workers and both Pfizer and Moderna require that people receive two doses of the vaccine for it to be effective.

But Newsom warned Californians not to get complacent.

As the winter holidays approach, Newsom revealed a new public service announcement urging families to wear masks, wash their hands, socially distance and stay home.

Newsom said the state saw “historically high case numbers” on Monday, with more than 32,000 positive COVID-19 cases reported in a single day.

The state’s current positivity rate has also risen to 10.7%, a rate not seen since the first few weeks of the global health crisis, he said. Virus-related hospitalizations in California have increased by 68% in the last two weeks.

The current ICU capacity in the Sacramento region is at 14.9%. In San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, the ICU capacity sits at 1.6% and 1.7% capacity, respectively.

The governor also announced the state’s new COVID-19 guidelines, reducing the quarantine timeline from 14 days to 10 days for all asymptomatic individuals exposed to the virus. For health care workers who have been exposed to COVID-19, the quarantine period was shortened from 10 days to 7 days, as long as they test negative for the virus on day five or later, due to staffing shortages.

Newsom said the state is spending over $30 million on a campaign to encourage Californians to get vaccines to the state’s 58 counties.

“It’s a focus on diversity, it’s a focus to acknowledge that cultural competency as it relates to vaccinations has not always been made visible, particularly in Native American communities, particularly in the African American community,” Newsom said. “We also recognize we need to do a better job partnering with our diverse communities.”

Those partnerships include connecting with faith leaders, community-based organizations and trusted messengers, according to Newsom.


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