There is light at the end of a long tunnel — the first vaccine doses are expected to arrive in California next week — but officials have warned the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic are still ahead.
On Thursday, the U.S. nearly matched its record-breaking death toll from the day prior, and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said to expect more of the same for another two to three months. In California, the weekly death toll climbed to another new high, with more than 30,000 new infections for a fourth straight day and intensive care units filled to more than 90% capacity.
County health departments reported 33,950 new cases of COVID-19 and another 173 deaths from the virus Thursday in California, according to data compiled by this news organization. The state is averaging more daily infections and fatalities than any other point of the pandemic, increasing fourfold and threefold, respectively, in the past month.
An average of more than 28,500 Californians have tested positive each day over the past week, and a total of 1,048 have perished in that time, about 150 per day, amounting to the state’s deadliest seven days of the pandemic. Just in the past week, the state’s average daily case count has soared by 70% and daily deaths have nearly doubled. About 10% of all tests have come back positive in the past week, up about 37% from the 7.3% rate the week before.
Few, if any, of the 135,000 infections reported over the past 96 hours have been reflected in the record numbers of fatalities, hospitalizations or ICU admissions this week. The new infections could result in an additional 16,000 hospitalizations, including more than 3,000 new patients requiring ICUs, in the coming weeks, if state health officials’ estimates are accurate.
Already, ICUs are filling up in some parts of the state — most notably in the San Joaquin Valley region, where just 1.9% of ICU beds remained open Thursday, according to the latest figures from the state. In Southern California, 92.3% of ICU beds are full; and the Greater Sacramento region fell to 13.3% capacity, triggering a new stay-at-home order. In the Bay Area region, 17.8% of ICU beds were open Thursday.
But hospitals here are filling up fast. In Sonoma County, officials voted to voluntarily implement the regional stay-at-home order after its ICU capacity had fallen to 15%, and Santa Clara County is already below the 15% threshold.
Meanwhile, with 21 fatalities spread widely across the region, the Bay Area had one of its deadliest days in months. Alameda County — which leads all of the region’s counties with 533 overall deaths from the virus — reported the most fatalities Thursday with seven. Santa Clara County — which has recorded 519 total COVID-19 fatalities, the second highest in the region — reported four new deaths on Thursday, followed by three each in Contra Costa and Santa Cruz counties; two in Sonoma County; and one each in San Francisco and Solano County.
In Los Angeles County, which set another record Thursday with over 12,000 new cases, continues to drive the state’s death tally. The county hasn’t seen a deadlier two days of the pandemic, with 149 fatalities reported over the past 48 hours, including 74 on Thursday. Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego counties also reported double-digit death tolls Thursday; half the counties in California reported at least one new victim of the virus.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County health officer, said she anticipates the number of deaths to grow even larger in the coming weeks.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield offered a similarly chilling message, predicting that in “the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had on 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor.”
“The reality is the vaccine approval this week is not going to really impact that, I think, to any degree for the next 60 days,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday.
Since the start of December, the country’s daily death toll from COVID-19 has exceeded that of the attack on Pearl Harbor — more than 2,400 American lives lost — seven times in nine days. On Wednesday, it exceeded the death toll from the September 11 attacks — more than 2,900 American lives lost — for the first time of the pandemic. On Thursday, the U.S. reported another 2,923 American lives lost to COVID-19 as the national death toll grew to more than 292,000, surpassing the number of American casualties suffered in battle during World War II.