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State issues first regional COVID-19 text alert aiming to get residents' attention

Text Alert
Posted at 5:35 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 20:35:19-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Tuesday more than half of California's population received a COVID-19 text alert that was issued by the state - reminding residents to stay home. 23ABC's Alex Bell explains what the state had to say about why that alert was sent out and if we'll see more in the future.

"It is the widest we've ever issued an emergency alert because we think there is just that much danger. And we're just trying to get everyone's attention so they can take those actions to protect themselves and protect their families," said Brian Ferguson, Deputy Director of Crisis Communication for CAL OES.

On Tuesday at noon, a state emergency cell phone alert was sent to millions of residents in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California counties asking residents to stay home except for essential activities. The alert comes as SoCal and the San Joaquin Valley fall back under a mandatory regional stay at home order issued by the governor's office.

Ferguson said the alert is unusual to use for COVID-19 but necessary.

"When our ICU capacity is below 15 percent, we really do think there is an imminent threat to public health and safety and the communities under the stay-at-home order."

The state used its Wireless Emergency Alerts system to send cell phone users a text in English and Spanish. Ferguson said the alert was sent at noon so people would notice but not be afraid.

This is the first time the state has issued such an alert; although residents who received the alert on Tuesday shouldn't expect another. If new regions fall under the stay-at-home order it could be sent again to those regions. The hope with this alert helps get residents' attention.

"To get over that COVID fatigue that so much of us are facing these days and understand that there really is an emergency to kind of get out of the fog and take action," added Ferguson.

Ferguson said it's also too early to tell if the alert increased calls to 911 but data will be released in the coming days. 23ABC did reach to local county officials to see there was an increase in 911 calls from the alert however we were told "there's no way to capture the number of calls because they don't get dispatched which is where a "cause" is assigned to the call."