California’s explosive surge of COVID-19 continued over the weekend, as positive tests came back in record numbers, hospitalizations climbed to another new high and fewer ICU beds were available than ever before.
County health departments combined to report 24,588 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, despite only a quarter of the state’s 58 counties issuing updates, according to data compiled by this news organization. With more than 222,000 new cases in the past week — an average of more than 31,700 per day — more Californians have tested positive in the past seven days than all of October and September, combined.
In the past two weeks, California’s average daily cases have increased by 127%. Hospitals are already feeling the effects of a surge in cases that began about six weeks ago with a 76% increase in COVID-positive patients in the past two weeks.
More Californians already hospitalized with the virus than any other point of the pandemic, and that figure could still multiply in the coming weeks. On Saturday, the active count climbed to 13,047, according to the latest data from the state, its highest point of the pandemic. The patients admitted recently likely reflect infections that occurred two to three weeks ago, according to state health officials, when California was reporting new cases at half the rate it is now.
If a small number of the cases detected in the past week have hit the point of hospitalization, that could mean a massive influx of patients on top of what are already record-setting figures that are straining capacity in parts of the state. State health officials estimate about 12% of cases require hospitalization, which would translate the past week’s amount of cases into more than 26,000 additional hospitalizations in the coming weeks. If 20% of those demand intubation in an ICU — on the low end of health officials’ estimates — that would mean more than 5,300 new ICU patients, when fewer than 1,500 beds remain available, according to the latest data from the state.
Across California, ICUs are filled to 92.6% capacity, according to the Department of Public Health, but the Bay Area remains slightly better off: 16.7% of ICU beds here are open, just above the state-mandated 15% threshold, though much of the region has already implemented the new restrictions that would be triggered by falling below that figure.
In all of the San Joaquin Valley, there were no ICU beds available Saturday, though capacity increased to 1.5%, as of Sunday, the lowest of the five regions in the state. In Southern California, ICU capacity dwindled to 4.2% Sunday, and in the Greater Sacramento region, capacity increased to 15.1%. Restrictions won’t be eligible to be lifted in any of those regions until Dec. 28 at the earliest.
As more severe cases of the virus end up hospitalized and intubated in ICUs, more Californians are also perishing from the virus. With 1,107 fatalities over the past week — an average of about 158 per day — California has reported more deaths than any other seven-day period of the pandemic.
On Sunday, there were 71 new victims of the virus reported around California, fueled mostly by the southern part of the state. Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties accounted for 62 of the fatalities Sunday. In the San Joaquin Valley, Stanislaus County reported five new deaths and Kern County reported two; and on the Central Coast, there were two deaths in Monterey County.
The only deaths reported in the Bay Area over the weekend came in Alameda County on Saturday, though Santa Clara County set a daily record with 2,029 new cases on Sunday.
Orange County also reported a record 3,121 new cases on Sunday, while San Bernardino County broke its daily record on Saturday. In San Bernardino County, the per-capita infection rate over the past week would rank higher than all 50 states, while in Los Angeles County, the rate is higher than all but Rhode Island and Tennessee.
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California now ranks 15th among the states for infections per-capita in the past week — about 79.1 per day for every 100,000 residents — after it ranked 39th as recently as two weeks ago. The rate in the Bay Area — about 42.4 daily cases per 100,000 — would still rank below every state but Oregon, Maine, Vermont and Hawaii.
Nationally, more than 16.3 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, including more than 210,000 per day over the past week, according to data collected by the New York Times. In California, the total infections number nearly 1.6 million, while the cumulative death toll here crossed 21,000 on Sunday.
The U.S. death toll was expected to cross 300,000 on Monday. After Sunday, it sat at 299,328, according to the Times’ data, with an average of more than 2,400 Americans perishing from the virus each day over the past week.
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