(Photo by Skeeze via Pixabay)

State public health officials reminded residents across the state Thursday to avoid gathering indoors with others as much as possible despite the wildfires burning along the West Coast and the resulting poor air quality.

More than 5,300 people across the state are currently being sheltered in places like empty hotel rooms due to fire-related evacuations, according to Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s acting public health officer.

Of those, only 81 are in congregate shelters and 5,231 are in lower-risk non-congregate shelters. However, sheltered residents usually make up only around 5 percent of evacuees, with the other 95 percent seeking refuge with friends and family members.

Pan said that despite the converging crises, residents should not let their guard down about the danger of spreading the novel coronavirus.

“We have this unfortunate situation where we need to be indoors because of air quality in many parts of our state but we do encourage you to remain indoors and with your household members,” Pan said. “This is not a time to gather indoors” with others.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly highlighted the ongoing increased risk for people of color across the state, who are dealing with disproportionate contraction and death rates of COVID-19.

“Nearly 60 percent of our cases in California have been among Latinos,” Ghaly said. “Nearly 50 percent of the deaths,” he said have been among Latinos and they make up less than 40 percent of California’s population.

The state’s populations of Black, Asian and Pacific Islander residents also face higher rates of contracting the coronavirus.

To combat the inequity of the state’s coronavirus cases and deaths, Ghaly said state health officials are working with local health officials to sift through testing data for variances between high and low-income areas of a county, for example.

“This may require increasing testing in some of the lower-income communities above where it is today and working to bring culturally competent contact tracing and supportive isolation in levels that we don’t have today all in order to close that gap,” Ghaly said.

Ghaly added that Californians need to work together to support each other as the pandemic and wildfires continue across the state for the foreseeable future.

“California has rarely seen the confluence of conditions that we’re seeing today,” he said. “It’s really a moment not to be divisive but to come together and move forward together … so that we see ourselves on the other end of this a stronger and better state.”