California surpasses 7 million coronavirus cases

California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases, after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic.

The unprecedented count, recorded in California’s databases late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case.

Even during last winter’s disastrous wave, new infections increased more slowly. It took a little over three weeks for California to get from its 2 millionth cumulative coronavirus case to its 3 millionth.

The stunning speed of new infections is a testament to the Omicron variant’s transmissibility, believed to be two to four times more contagious than the Delta variant, which in turn was more infectious than earlier strains that pummeled California last winter.

California’s daily COVID-19 death rate has also risen dramatically. For the seven-day period that ended Sunday, the state was recording 103 deaths a day; that’s roughly double the last week of 2021, when 55 deaths a day were tallied.

At its worst, California’s COVID-19 death rate over a weekly period was 545 deaths a day, reached during late January 2021.

In Los Angeles County, the COVID-19 death rate has doubled in the last week. For the seven-day period ending Monday, the county was averaging 42 deaths a day; for the prior week, the average was 22 deaths a day.

L.A. County’s peak death rate last year was about 240 deaths a day.

While some health officials have said the recent COVID-19 deaths are likely the result of the Delta variant, the L.A. County Department of Public Health in recent days has noted that many fatalities have occurred among people who were infected when Omicron was clearly the dominant variant.

On Saturday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said that “the majority of deaths reported this week are associated with individuals who became infected after Dec. 20, when Omicron was circulating widely,” suggesting the variant may have a bigger role in COVID-19 deaths than initially believed.

The dramatic surge in infections is contributing to strained hospitals across swaths of California, many of which have said they’ve been forced to cancel scheduled surgeries amid crushing demand in emergency rooms.

The high rate of infections has also contributed to even scarcer staffing in hospitals. California’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Erica Pan, said last week that “we are seeing near-crisis levels” of emergency room overcrowding in certain areas.

With fewer hospital workers, it’s harder to admit patients from the emergency room, which then keeps ambulances waiting for long periods to drop off patients, resulting in a worsening of 911 response times to new callers, Pan said.

The number of overall patients admitted into hospitals for all reasons last week was nearing the state’s pandemic record. As of the middle of last week, there were some 52,400 patients in California’s hospitals, just shy of the record of 53,000 admitted during the worst of last winter’s surge, a time when many hospitals were overwhelmed.

By Sunday, there were 2,185 coronavirus-positive patients in California’s intensive care units, a number that exceeds the height of the summer Delta surge, when there were 2,128. The latest number remains well below the state’s record of 4,868 recorded during last winter’s peak, a time when few people were immunized.

There were 14,211 coronavirus-positive patients in California’s hospitals on Sunday, more than double the amount on New Year’s Day, when there were 6,237. The latest number exceeds the height of California’s summer surge, when 8,353 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized, but is far below the peak experienced last winter, when the number reached 21,938.

In Northern California, some officials have expressed hope that a cresting of the winter wave may come soon.

In Santa Clara County, Northern California’s most populous county, coronavirus levels in wastewater started declining about 1 1/2 weeks ago. Officials expect the dip will presage a sustained decline in coronavirus cases.

And the exponential growth in the greater San Francisco Bay Area’s case rate also appears to be leveling off, although it will probably take a few days — following any reporting backlog from the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend — to be sure.

For the most recent seven-day period, the Bay Area was averaging about 20,000 coronavirus cases a day, a little less than the 22,000 a day for the prior week. The greater Sacramento area recorded about 5,700 cases a day for the most recent weekly period, a bit lower than the prior week, when 6,000 daily cases were reported.

But Southern California is still tallying increases.

The greater Southern California region recorded 79,000 new cases a day over the most recent seven-day period, a bit higher than 78,000 from the prior week. Still, the exponential growth appears to have slowed; two weeks ago, Southern California was averaging 23,000 new cases a day.

Los Angeles County is averaging about 40,000 cases a day for the most recent timeframe, up from 36,000 cases a day for the prior week. The week before that, the county was averaging 19,000 cases a day.

However, the rate at which coronavirus tests are coming back with positive results in L.A. County has started to decline. For the seven-day period that ended Monday, the positive test rate was 16.5%. The prior week’s rate was 20.8%, and the week before that was 22.7%. In the first week of December, the positive test rate was around 1%.

In the greater San Joaquin Valley, cases are also still going up. The area tallied 9,400 cases a day over the last week, higher than 7,300 cases a day for the week before.

Meanwhile, some states on the East Coast that were hit earlier by the Omicron wave have started to see a sustained decline in cases. New York recorded a peak of about 90,000 new coronavirus cases a day for the seven-day period that ended Jan. 9; that figure has fallen to 40,000 a day for the seven-day period that ended Monday.

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