California’s coronavirus catastrophe reached a staggering new level Monday as Johns Hopkins University data showed the nation’s most populous state has recorded more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic started nearly a year ago.
Deaths have exploded since a Covid-19 surge began in October. It took California six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000, with an average of 476 deaths a day in the last week.
Health officials have warned the worst may yet be to come, when a full picture emerges of infections from the holidays.
At his Monday news briefing, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, referenced the criticism he received for speaking last month of preparing mobile morgues and refrigerated trucks around the state. “Some suggested that perhaps that was overly indulgent, a bit hyperbolic,” he said. “Now it appears more pressing in the context that these mobile morgues have been essential in particular parts of this state that are just overwhelmed and don’t have the capacity.”
Hard-hit Los Angeles county, where deaths have topped 12,000 and confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 900,000, meanwhile announced it would stop using Curative Covid-19 tests at pop-up testing sites after a Food and Drug Administration alert to patients and healthcare providers that the test could produce false negatives.
The department said Curative PCR tests at the pop-up sites between 13 December and 2 January made up about 10% of all Covid-19 tests administered at county-supported test sites during that same time frame. The county will switch to Fulgent Genetics tests this week.
In another change, the city of Los Angeles announced late Sunday that its Covid-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium would be transformed into a huge vaccination center by the end of the week.
“This shift in resources will temporarily reduce testing capacity in LA county, but it will more than triple the number of daily vaccines available to be dispersed to Angelenos,” a city statement said. The Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, said vaccines were “the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery”.
Hospitalizations because of Covid-19 have soared across California, and over the weekend, state officials reported a two-day record of 1,163 deaths. California now ranks third nationally in coronavirus deaths, behind Texas and New York, which is in the No 1 position with nearly 40,000.
Many of the state’s hospitals are out of regular intensive care beds for the sickest Covid-19 patients.
The hardest-hit areas are 15 counties in southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Those counties comprise a majority of the state’s population, including many lower-income residents who may live in crowded areas or work in jobs that place them in close contact with customers or other employees, increasing their risk of infection.
Hospitals in the counties have been ordered to delay non-essential elective surgeries, such as knee replacements, to make room.
The biggest fear is that after a surge of cases from Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, hospitals will be tipped into rationing care, apportioning care on the basis of who has the best chance of survival.
Lawmakers and public health officials say that surge on top of a surge would involve people who were infected when they ignored social distancing rules to gather with friends and relatives during the holidays.
Elsewhere in the state, Newsom announced that several gorillas had tested positive for the virus at the San Diego zoo, possibly a global first. Newsom wished the zoo “the best of the best” in the primates’ recovery.