World Events

California approaches 30,000th COVID death amid continuing surge

California on Sunday continued to see a dramatic surge in its number of COVID-19 deaths, with the state fast approaching another milestone: 30,000 fatalities.

The pace of daily COVID-19 deaths has climbed dramatically since the most recent surge began in November. On election day, Nov. 3, California was recording about 40 deaths a day; by Thanksgiving, about 70 deaths a day, and by Christmas, about 220 deaths a day. By Saturday night, California was recording an average of 451 deaths a day for the last week, a record.

It took roughly six months for California to record its 10,000th death, which was recorded on Aug. 6, and four more months to record its 20,000th death, which was logged on Dec. 8. California recorded its 29,877th death by Sunday afternoon, just about one month later, according to a preliminary survey of local health jurisdictions conducted by The Times.

Five of the highest single-day death tallies for California have been recorded in the last week.

The most recent single-day death record for California occurred on Friday, when 685 deaths were recorded, breaking the previous record of 575 deaths tallied on New Year’s Eve. An additional 456 deaths were tallied statewide on Saturday, the sixth-highest single-day tally.

California is recording an increasing number of daily coronavirus cases after a post-Christmas lull. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, the state was recording an average of 45,000 coronavirus cases a day, a record for the seven-day average; that stabilized to between 35,000 and 40,000 cases a day until Thursday.

But the seven-day average rose to nearly 44,000 new coronavirus cases a day by Saturday, the fourth-highest such number of the pandemic.

The post-Christmas surge in new coronavirus cases has been growing by the day. L.A. County’s average number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was about 18,000 — significantly above the average of about 14,000 new cases a day over the last week.

“This very clearly is the latest surge from the winter holidays and New Year’s — no question about it,” said Dr. Paul Simon, the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s chief science officer, on Friday. “It had gradually started earlier in the week, but [definitely] here in the last day or two.”

A preliminary, incomplete survey of local health jurisdictions in L.A. County found at least 14,000 new coronavirus cases reported Sunday, and at least 160 deaths. The daily tallies for Sundays are generally lower due to reporting delays over the weekend.

L.A. County is now averaging about 211 COVID-19 deaths a day, a record. That’s a far more accelerated pace than the number from Christmas, when L.A. County was averaging about 80 deaths a day, and Thanksgiving, when about 30 deaths a day were recorded.

There continues to be ongoing pressure on California’s overloaded intensive care unit system. According to data released Sunday, the number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s ICUs climbed to a record Saturday — to 4,863. That’s about triple the number from Thanksgiving.

As of Saturday, there were about 22,000 COVID-19 patients in California’s hospitals. That number has remained relatively flat for the last week. Officials expect the number of hospitalizations to start worsening this week, as people who were infected over Christmas start to become ill. What’s still not fully known is how bad the post-holiday surge will be in the hospitals.

L.A. County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have been stable in recent days, hovering between 7,900 and 8,100 overall hospitalizations, including about 1,700 in the ICU.

The ICUs in L.A. County are effectively out of available space. There are typically only about 2,000 staffed ICU beds in the county, and as of last week, about 400 were occupied by non-COVID patients.

In recent days, available ICU beds in the county fell to zero or one in each of the following regions: central L.A., the Westside, southeast L.A. County, the San Gabriel Valley and the Antelope Valley. The South Bay-and-Long Beach region had as few as three available ICU beds in recent days, and the San Fernando Valley as few as six.

Though California’s existing pandemic surge is dire, the state has one of the lower cumulative numbers of COVID-19 deaths on a per capita basis, ranking 38th among the 50 states, probably a result of the early imposition of the stay-at-home order in the spring and summertime closures of certain high-risk businesses. New Jersey’s cumulative COVID-19 death rate is triple that of California’s; Arizona’s is double; and Florida’s is 1½ times larger.

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