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Coronavirus: California's death toll climbs even higher – Chico Enterprise-Record


As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches its latest apex in California, more of its residents have perished in the past week than in all but the deadliest of earlier months in the crisis. While a dramatic holiday surge in cases has yet to materialize, infections have been coming at twice or more the rate of their summer peak now for over a month, and hospitals are feeling the crunch.

On Tuesday, county health departments combined to report 609 new fatalities, according to data compiled by this news organization. It was the second time the daily death toll has exceeded 600 — second only to Friday — and pushed the seven-day total beyond 3,500, the first time of the pandemic that the virus has claimed an average of at least 500 lives each day over the course of a week. A total of 3,564 Californians have perished in the past seven days, more than in all of September and October, combined.

While California “remains in its most intense surge to date,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a video update late Tuesday evening, hospitalizations in the state and its rate of positive tests have begun to stabilize. In the video, Newsom confirmed another piece of positive news: Greater Sacramento will be the first region to exit the stay-at-home order, with its ICU capacity projected to be at least 15% in four weeks.

At approximately 42,500 per day, California is averaging four times as many cases now as it was at its summer peak and has been adding cases at a rate at least twice that clip since the first week of December. That has resulted in a record number of hospitalizations, topping out last week just below 22,000. But the active count has fallen by about 200 in the four days since, to 21,747, as of Monday, according to the latest data from the state. California’s average daily case count has grown by a modest 11% in the past two weeks, compared to an 82% rate of growth in the two weeks preceding its pre-Christmas peak, and hospitalizations have risen by less than 7% in the past two weeks versus more than 40% in the two weeks prior.

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In the Bay Area, ICU capacity rebounded to 4.7% after reaching an all-time low of 0.7% on Monday, but hospitals in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley continued to operate in surge capacity for their fourth straight week. All three regions will remain under the state’s stay-at-home order until their projected ICU capacity meets 15%. Although Greater Sacramento’s reported ICU capacity was only 9.4% Tuesday, the state uses a model to project capacity four weeks out.

The two regions already hardest-hit by the virus have also seen the largest increase in ICU admissions recently. Since ICU capacity hit zero in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley about a month ago, the number of ICU patients in those regions has grown by 67% and 55%, respectively, compared to a rate of 31% in the Bay Area over that time. In Greater Sacramento, ICUs admitted about 19% more COVID-19 patients, and in Northern California, the count even shrunk by about 12%.

Once again, it was counties in those two regions that populated the state leaderboard in fatalities on Tuesday.

In Southern California, Los Angeles County reported its second-largest death toll of the pandemic with 287 new fatalities on Tuesday, nearly half the statewide total. It was joined in the region by other substantial tallies in the counties of Riverside (44), San Diego (41), Orange (28) and Ventura (21). Altogether, the region accounted for just under three in every four deaths in the state on Tuesday, despite accounting for just over half its population.

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Counties in the San Joaquin Valley tallied 75 fatalities Tuesday, led by 41 in Fresno County, and those in the Bay Area added a total of 59 to their death tolls. In Santa Clara County, the death toll grew by another 25 on Tuesday and was on pace to become the first in the region to surpass a thousand within the next week. Several morgues within the county, which has accounted for two in every five deaths in the region in the past week, are completely full and more are nearing capacity, Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the county’s director of health care preparedness, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, San Mateo County reported 13 new fatalities, its third-largest single-day total of the pandemic; Alameda County added six to its death toll; and Santa Cruz and Monterey counties each reported five new fatalities.

 

Throughout the region, average daily deaths have tripled in the past two weeks to an average of approximately 60 per day, or about 7.1 for every million residents, a per-capita rate still lower than every other region in California and less than half that of Southern California.

In San Francisco, officials were hopeful the lack of a meaningful surge meant residents were adhering to the stay-at-home order. Cases have increased about 28% since the string of December holidays, compared to a 70% increase after Thanksgiving, health officials said Tuesday.

“This is some good news,” Mayor London Breed said, “and it means, hopefully, that people are following the health orders.”

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