Coronavirus: California’s cases slow as deaths come in larger numbers

California’s coronavirus cases have slowed since Christmas, but testing delays coupled with the average timeline of infection mean the impact of holiday gatherings likely may not be fully realized until next week.
For over a week now, though, California’s average daily case count has plateaued below its pre-Christmas peak. On Sunday, counties combined to report 22,141 new cases of COVID-19 and 93 deaths from the virus, according to data compiled by this news organization. But while new cases have remained about flat, the rate of tests to come back positive in the state has spiked near a new high, and its daily death toll continues to swell.

On average over the past week, California is reporting approximately 35,760 new cases per day, almost 15% fewer than two weeks ago, the day before Christmas Eve. However, at 13.5%, its seven-day positivity rate is two-tenths of a point higher than it was two weeks ago. And, with nearly 2,350 fatalities over the past week — an average of about 335 per day, or about one every four minutes — the past seven days in California have also been its deadliest of the pandemic. The average day brings as many fatalities now as the average week for much of November, though they continue to come disproportionately in Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California.
Of the 93 statewide fatalities Sunday, 91 came in Los Angeles County; the other two occurred just east in San Bernardino County.
Over the past week, more than one in every two deaths in California has occurred in Los Angeles County, which has mounted a weekly death toll of nearly 1,300 — a number over six times greater than the weekly total in the Bay Area, despite only a 25% difference in their populations. In the Bay Area, an average of about 30 people died from COVID-19 each day in the past week — about 9% more than two weeks ago — while in Los Angeles County, there was an average of 184 deaths per day over the past week, a 123% spike in the past two weeks.
Throughout Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, hospitals continued to report zero capacity in their intensive care units and had entered their third week of enlisting surge beds to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. In the Bay Area, capacity had recovered slightly from a low of 6.5% late last week to 8.4%, as of Sunday, but approaching its first evaluation date, the region was still well short of the state-mandated 15% capacity threshold. If, on Friday, the state projects the region to have at least 15% of its ICU beds available in four weeks, the region would be eligible to exit the regional stay-at-home order.
Statewide, the rate of new COVID-19 patients entering hospitals has also slowed since Christmas. Since recording its 20,000th active patient last Monday, California has admitted a net of 300 new COVID-positive patients over the following five days, fewer than the average daily increase two weeks ago. In the seven days since Christmas, California’s active hospitalizations have grown by 9%, compared to a 15% rate the week leading up to the holiday and 32% in the seven days prior to that.
As of Sunday, there were 20,690 COVID-positive patients hospitalized across California, including 4,509 in the ICUs, both record highs for the state. According to the COVID Tracking Project, no state at any point of the pandemic has reported more hospitalized cases than California is currently, but there were more intensive-care patients in New York during its spring outbreak. Even when accounting for its massive population, California has more COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized per capita than all but three other states: Arizona, Nevada and Alabama.
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The rate of infections per capita over the past week in Arizona has also overtaken California on the hot spot leaderboard, though at about 90 daily cases for every 100,000 residents, California remains in the top five nationally, alongside Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas, according to data collected by the New York Times.
Following a post-Christmas lull, the average daily case count in the U.S. has risen back near its pre-Christmas peak. The daily average had fallen as low as about 183,000 cases per day but as of Sunday had increased to about 213,000 per day over the past week, according to the Times’ data. After recording its deadliest month of the pandemic in December, with an average daily death toll exceeding 2,500, the country has averaged close to 1,900 daily deaths during the first three days of 2021.

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