Even as hospitals stagger from COVID-19 overload and brace for more cases, a small ray of hope dawned Monday that California’s stay-at-home orders are starting to have an effect.
Although the state once again recorded its highest number of new coronavirus infections in a single day — 66,811 — the tally included a backlog from the long Christmas weekend, during which many counties did not issue reports.
Looked at more broadly, the average daily number of cases reported over a weeklong period has fallen slightly from its peak, which reached about 45,000 a day for the seven-day period ending Dec. 22. By Monday night, the average daily number of new coronavirus cases was about 38,000.
The improvement is nothing to be overly cheerful about, though. Monday’s daily average is still worse than the comparable figure from two weeks ago. It will likely be some weeks before this flattening of new coronavirus cases results in a slight easing of new hospitalizations — a small reprieve ahead of what officials and experts expect will be another surge in new infections stemming from gatherings and travel over the winter holidays.
And the state’s hospitals are clearly in crisis already. In L.A. County, hospitals are so overcrowded that some have had to convert conference rooms and gift shops into patient care areas. Others report such high demand for oxygen by COVID-19 patients that they’re having trouble maintaining air pressure in the pipes or experiencing shortages in supply.
But state officials still found cause to contend that the stay-at-home orders covering much of California since Dec. 6 are working and that some residents are taking the orders more seriously than they did before.
Without the orders, state officials and some experts say California would be in an even more precarious position.
“This would have been much, much worse had we not introduced some of these interventions,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California health and human services secretary, said the plateau in average new daily coronavirus cases does appear to be real, and could offer a slight respite. However, officials have said they fully expect that hospitals will get hit by a mid-January wave of patients who were infected at Christmas and New Year gatherings, underscoring the importance of even a small dip in infections now.
“We’re pleased to see a little bit of a plateau,” Ghaly said. Without this flattening, “the impact that we anticipate coming from Christmas [and] New Year’s would be even worse.”
That’s all the more reason, Ghaly said, to show that many new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths can easily be prevented if people stay home and forgo gatherings outside their household for New Year’s.
“Those are going to be the things that help us keep this slight decrease downward or … just a flattening of the upward trends that help us anticipate a slightly reduced impact on our hospitals,” Ghaly said.
The average daily number of new coronavirus cases has also begun to flatten in L.A. County, generally hovering around 14,000 a day over the last 12 days.
County officials warn, however, that for hospitals to become safer, the caseload needs to level off at a significantly lower point.
A tally of 14,000 to 15,000 cases a day “is way too high for us to take any solace in,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week. “We’d have to level off at a much lower rate for us to protect our hospitals.”
On Monday, Ferrer said it was clear from what happened after Thanksgiving that “mingling with people outside of your immediate household is one of the leading causes for the current surge.”
“All it takes is one unfortunate encounter with an individual with COVID-19 for you to become infected and, sadly, for you to go on and infect many others,” Ferrer said. She urged that people who traveled for Christmas or other winter holidays to quarantine themselves for at least 10 days to see if they develop signs of illness.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in California remains at an all-time high. Sunday was the 30th consecutive day that the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new high, at 19,766, nearly eight times the number on Nov. 1.
The number of people in the state’s ICUs with COVID-19 is also at an all-time high — 4,228 as of Sunday, nearly six times more than on Nov. 1.
Across California over the last week, an average of 231 people died every day from COVID-19. California is on track this week to mark its 25,000th COVID-19 death. As of Monday night, 24,545 deaths had been tallied statewide.