California Becomes First State To Surpass 2 Million Coronavirus Cases

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It took more than nine months for California to record 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

It has taken less than six weeks to see 1 million more.

Once regarded as a model for stopping the spread of COVID-19, California on Wednesday passed 2 million recorded cases of the deadly illness, reaching the milestone as Christmas approaches in the midst of the darkest and most dangerous days of the pandemic.

Hundreds of people are dying from the virus in California each day. A crush of new patients is threatening to overwhelm hospitals. Even as vaccinations begin rolling out more widely and local health officials cling to signs in testing data that this devastating surge of the virus may be cresting, they are bracing for more deaths and fear that Christmas and New Year’s, like Thanksgiving before them, will fuel another devastating surge of cases as people unwittingly spread the virus among their friends and family members.

“Our hospitals are at the brink — just about to be pushed over,” said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, director of health care preparedness for Santa Clara County, where just 35 intensive care unit beds remained available Tuesday. “Pick up your phone right now. Cancel any gathering with people who do not live with you.

“Please,” Kamal added, “I implore you.”

More than 2.5 percent of California’s 39.5 million residents have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past six weeks.

California recorded its millionth coronavirus case on Nov. 12, according to data compiled by this news organization; it likely hit that mark sooner, but limited testing especially in the pandemic’s early days meant many cases were never officially confirmed.

Forty-one days later, data assembled from local public health offices showed the state pushed past the 2 million case mark late Wednesday afternoon, with some counties yet to report their daily totals.

On Nov. 12, the state was averaging just under 7,000 new coronavirus cases per day, and just over 4,000 people were being treated for the virus in hospitals. By Tuesday, California was averaging more than 45,000 cases per day over the past week, and the number of COVID patients in hospitals had climbed past 19,000. More patients are being treated for COVID-19 in California’s hospitals today than were hospitalized during the spring peak of the virus in New York.

Just 1.1 percent of beds in intensive care units across California were available as of Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. In the hard-hit Central Valley, San Joaquin County health officials reported all ICUs were operating at or above — some well above — their licensed capacity.

California’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee met Wednesday to continue the debate over how the state should distribute the millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine it expects to receive over the coming months. Health care workers began receiving the vaccine last week. Residents and staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are expected to receive it over the coming days and weeks.

The state has zeroed in on three categories of front-line employees — educators, first responders, and essential workers in the farm and grocery industries — to be next in line. Officials are now weighing whether to add people who are 75 and older, whose age puts them at risk for severe or deadly COVID-19 cases, to this group; a separate state vaccine workgroup is set to take up the issue at a meeting next week.

In the meantime, there were faint glimmers of hope that the current surge may be slowing down.

Newsom and Acting State Health Officer Erica Pan said Wednesday the percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive has declined slightly in recent days. But as she spoke before the vaccine committee, Pan warned that with so many people newly infected, the situation in California’s hospitals “might get worse before it gets better.”

University of California San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford said the key measure is known as effective reproduction — the number of people each infected person is passing the virus onto — has been trending downward in the Bay Area in recent days.

“I think we may be heading toward turning the curve,” Rutherford said. “We haven’t turned it yet but there are some signs of deceleration.”

Still, any progress could be wiped out if family gatherings during Christmas lead to the kind of increase in new cases California has experienced in the weeks since Thanksgiving.

“We can’t take that much,” Rutherford said.

On Nov. 12, the state was averaging just under 7,000 new coronavirus cases per day, and just over 4,000 people were being treated for the virus in hospitals. By Tuesday, California was averaging more than 45,000 cases per day over the past week, and the number of COVID patients in hospitals had climbed past 19,000. More patients are being treated for COVID-19 in California’s hospitals today than were hospitalized during the spring peak of the virus in New York.

Just 1.1 percent of beds in intensive care units across California were available as of Wednesday, December 23, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. In the hard-hit Central Valley, San Joaquin County health officials reported all ICUs were operating at or above — some well above — their licensed capacity.

California’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee met Wednesday to continue the debate over how the state should distribute the millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine it expects to receive over the coming months. Health care workers began receiving the vaccine last week. Residents and staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are expected to receive it over the coming days and weeks.

The state has zeroed in on three categories of front-line employees — educators, first responders, and essential workers in the farm and grocery industries — to be next in line. Officials are now weighing whether to add people who are 75 and older, whose age puts them at risk for severe or deadly COVID-19 cases, to this group; a separate state vaccine workgroup is set to take up the issue at a meeting next week.

In the meantime, there were faint glimmers of hope that the current surge may be slowing down.

Newsom and Acting State Health Officer Erica Pan said Wednesday the percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive has declined slightly in recent days. But as she spoke before the vaccine committee, Pan warned that with so many people newly infected, the situation in California’s hospitals “might get worse before it gets better.”

University of California San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford said the key measure known as effective reproduction — the number of people each infected person is passing the virus onto — has been trending downward in the Bay Area in recent days.

“I think we may be heading toward turning the curve,” Rutherford said. “We haven’t turned it yet but there are some signs of deceleration.”

Still, any progress could be wiped out if family gatherings during Christmas lead to the kind of increase in new cases California has experienced in the weeks since Thanksgiving.

“We can’t take that much,” Rutherford said.

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