COVID-19: As deaths spike, other curves begin to bend

Coronavirus: Near-record deaths in California, but cases keep going down

California averaging 543 deaths per day, but almost half the cases from 2 weeks ago
Source: Mercury News, Coronavirus Tracker
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Evan Webeck, January 27, 2021
[See also Benicia Independent: Solano deaths on January 26, 2021]

As California begins to turn the corner in the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer Californians are testing positive or hospitalized with the virus — but deaths, which can lag cases by up to four weeks, continue to come at a record pace.

On Tuesday, county health departments around the state combined to report California’s second-largest death toll on any single day of the pandemic — 735, according to data compiled by this news organization — but also half the infections from two weeks ago. With 22,247 new cases Tuesday, California is now averaging approximately 23,200 per day over the past week, 48% fewer than its peak just over two weeks ago. At 7.9%, the positivity rate over the past week in California fell to its lowest point since the first week of December, down from a high of over 14% earlier this month.

For interactive chart, see graph on Vallejo Times-Herald article,

Now out from under the stay-at-home order, every region in the state has seen a decrease in cases, as well as hospitalizations, though Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley continue to report higher numbers on a per-capita basis than elsewhere in the state. Only four small counties have progressed beyond the purple reopening tier, though, and the statewide infection rate is still almost 10 times higher than anything past the “widespread” tier.

Across California, the number of COVID-19 patients receiving care in hospitals has fallen 20% in the past two weeks, and the number of those in ICUs is down 11%. Hospital capacity remains strained throughout much of the state — ICUs are still at surge capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley and only 8.2% and 9.9% capacity in the Bay Area and Greater Sacramento, respectively — though every region is now projected to exceed 15% capacity in four weeks, according to the state’s models.

For now, though, the state is experiencing its deadliest period of the pandemic.

The only deadlier day in California than Tuesday came just five days earlier, and the total over the past week is higher than any other seven-day period of the pandemic. January alone has already accounted for a third of the casualties in California over the course of the entire pandemic.

The weekly death toll in California grew over 3,800 — an average of 543 per day — and the total for January rose over 12,000, on pace to double the previous monthly record, set the month prior. Over the course of the pandemic, 38,234 Californians have lost their lives to the virus. More than two in every three of those deaths have come in Southern California, but on Tuesday, the region was responsible for more than three in every four of the fatalities in California.

Seven counties in Southern California reported a combined 577 fatalities on Tuesday: 289 in Los Angeles, 113 in Riverside, 64 in Orange, 46 in San Diego, 41 in San Bernardino, 21 in Ventura and three in San Luis Obispo. The Bay Area on Tuesday totaled 72 fatalities between 10 counties within the region, including three with double-digit tallies: 30 in Santa Clara, 16 in San Mateo and 10 in Alameda.

On a per-capita basis, Southern California is still reporting cases at a rate that would still rank among the worst states, nationally, while the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento and Northern California have reduced their case loads to less than half that level.

Statewide, at about 58 daily cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, California has cut its infection rate nearly in half and now ranks below 12 other states. In Southern California, however, the daily infection rate over the past week was approximately 71.5/100K, and in the Bay Area, it was approximately 33.7/100K.

Evan Webeck, Reporter | Evan Webeck covers high-school sports on the field and beyond — and a little bit of everything else — for the Bay Area News Group. A Pacific Northwest native and graduate of Arizona State, Evan has previously worked for The Seattle Times, and Sports Illustrated.