LOS ANGELES - This week, California logged a record 125,000 new coronavirus infections.
In total, the Golden State has now recorded more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and is on the brink of becoming just the third state, behind New York and Texas, to surpass 20,000 deaths.
As those numbers and fears of overwhelmed hospitals rise, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new, regional, “stay-at-home” guidelines to help combat this new wave of the virus.
To break down the latest in California’s COVID-19 fight, Elex Michaelson is joined on The Issue Is by Congresswoman Karen Bass, chef and business owner Andrew Gruel, and doctors Mark Morocco and Peter Szilagyi.
The conversation kicks off with two medical professionals on the front-lines of the battle against COVID-19.
First, Dr. Mark Morocco, an infectious disease expert from UCLA’s Emergency Medicine Department who has been treating COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic.
“We are setting up for real war footing. We’re getting ready for this incredible surge,” Dr. Morocco said of the weeks ahead. “The numbers across the state and across the country now are so high, and the virus is so widely spread, that we’re thinking that we’re going to get a giant surge, so we are ready to come out of the locker room and play the second half of this game against a team that’s about to run up the score.”
As the number of total infections ramps-up, Dr. Morocco also warned against those asymptomatic individuals, many of whom are now admitted to the hospital as a result of a heart attack, stroke, or even car accident, and only later discover they had COVID-19 as well.
Still, Dr. Morocco warned the public against panicking, saying instead, that if they continue to wash their hands, wear masks, and avoid crowds and travel, they can help a great deal in the fight against the virus.
“Do this for the next six weeks, and we can take the edge off of this giant surge,” he said.
It wasn’t only panic that Dr. Morocco cautioned against. He also cautioned Americans -- especially those business owners frustrated by recent and renewed, lockdowns -- to not focus their anger at the virus, which does not discriminate based on political affiliation or job-type.
“If you want to be angry at somebody,” he said. “Be angry at people in the federal government who aren’t willing to put some war-type money behind this war that we’re fighting.”
As Dr. Morocco continues to fight against coronavirus in the ICU, another UCLA health professional is fighting the virus as part of the race for a vaccine.
Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a Pediatric Health Services and Clinical Researcher at UCLA, has spent years advising the CDC, members of Congress, and the Department of Health and Human Services on issues related to immunizations.
In October, he was named alongside nearly a dozen other nationally-recognized California physician-scientists to Gov. Newsom’s Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, tasked with independently reviewing any vaccines approved by the FDA.
As Pfizer, Moderna, and others rapidly progress on the vaccine front, Michaelson asked Dr. Szilagyi to explain how the treatment will actually be distributed.
Dr. Szilagyi, who also serves as a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said that some six months of deliberations have gone into how best to distribute the vaccine.
“We used the following principles,” Dr. Szilagyi told Michaelson. “The first was science, so who is most at risk? For whom is the burden the highest? The second is implementation, how feasible is it to implement the vaccine? And the third, and really important one, is ethics.”
Based on those principles, Dr. Szilagyi said that the vaccine, as many as 40 million doses by January, would first be distributed to healthcare workers and residents of skilled nursing facilities.
The next to receive the vaccine will be America’s 87 million essential workers, followed by older adults with chronic conditions that place them at risk and those over the age of 65.
“I’m actually optimistic, that by maybe the summertime, July, August, we will be really heading out of this pandemic,” Dr. Szilagyi reflected, “if the majority of people who can get the vaccine actually accept the vaccine.”
Next, Michaelson was joined by five-term Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
Their conversation began on the subject of Gov. Newsom’s announcement this week of regional stay-at-home orders, and the frustration of many California business owners who are again being forced to scale back or shut down.
“Because there has lacked national leadership, there is so much confusion about the virus,” Bass said. “So I feel sorry for all of us in California that we to go through this, but I do believe that it is absolutely necessary.”
“I know that when President-dlect Biden is sworn in in January, he’s already said that he is going to call for a national 100 days of everybody wearing a mask,” Bass continued. "So I do believe the next months are going to be tough, but I believe after that, we really will be able to get control of this situation.”
Beyond an education campaign to make sure that businesses and individuals understand the realities of the virus, Bass also said that what is also needed to curb the pain of shuttering businesses is Congressional relief.
“It is my responsibility here in Congress to make sure that we send relief to restaurants, to the beauty shops, to the nail shops, so they can survive while we’re going through this,” she said, adding that after months of negotiations, she believes Congress may be on the cusp of passing a new relief package as early as next week.
While Bass said she could not give specific details about the still-in-negotiations package, she did say that it could include an extension of unemployment benefits, another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, and extensions to the loans that will be forgiven for small businesses.
Shifting from potential future coronavirus relief, Michaelson asked Bass about her own future in Congress.
This, as Gov. Newsom is currently considering who he will select to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as California’s junior Senator.
Currently, Bass, is considered by many prognosticators to be one of Newsom’s most-likely selections, alongside the state’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Michaelson asked Bass, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, to make her pitch for the seat.
“You know what, I actually won’t do a pitch,” Bass laughed. “I will tell you that I do believe that there should be an African American woman in the Congress. You know, when Senator Harris is sworn in as the Vice President, there will be one African American Democrat, one African American Republican, no African American women, so I do think that’s the case.”
Bass said added that she is happy in her current role in the House, but “if called upon to serve, I’ll be there, ready to serve.”
The conversation ended with a round of The Name Game, a word-association game in which Bass was asked to say the first thing that came to mind when presented with members of the outgoing Trump Administration and incoming Biden one.
When it came to the Trump Administration, Bass said both President Trump and Mayor Rudy Giuliani were “unstable,” Attorney General Bill Barr was “corrupt,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was “sad.”
Discussing the incoming Biden team, Bass said President-elect Joe Biden was “inspirational” and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was a “history-maker.”
To close out a busy week, Michaelson was joined by chef and restaurant owner Andrew Gruel, who this week went viral when he rejected California’s order to suspend outdoor dining, vowing to remain open.
Michaelson asked Gruel, owner of the Slapfish restaurant chain, what his message to Gov. Newsom is.
“We’re on board here, we’ve been on board since day one, small businesses, restaurants, retail,” Gruel said. “We’ve been following every single step along the way, all of the mandates, all of the requirements, only to kind of get the hand to the face at every turn.”
“We’ve followed the science, and what is has shown, based upon both the statistical data, and [the Governor’s] anecdotal behavior, is that outdoor dining is not an issue, so don’t make it an issue,” Gruel continued. “If he can dine indoors with 22 of his closest friends, I can have my guests dine outdoors, in the beautiful air, absorbing vitamin D, and enjoying a meal.”
Gruel was similarly skeptical abut the state’s justification for closing outdoor dining, with the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, having said it was “not about how we mix safely, it’s about how we reduce our mixing altogether.”
"If he's that serious about that standpoint, then shut down all the government offices, let’s stop airplanes, let’s stop going to Walmart, Target, all the big box stores,” Gruel said. “We can pick and choose, and throw all of these items out on the table, but at the end of the day, we’re intermingling in each one of these little scenarios.”
Ultimately, Gruel stressed the ripple effect of closing outdoor dining, noting that it impacts all those employees, contractors and team members, who are now at risk of losing their jobs right before the holidays.
The Issue Is is California's only statewide political show. Watch FOX 11 Los Angeles Fridays at 10:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. For more showtimes and information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.