California’s deadly winter wave of COVID-19 continued its retreat Thursday but rebounded with a small increase in fatalities from the week before, according to data compiled by this news organization.
With 14,163 new cases Thursday and nearly 500 fewer COVID-positive patients in hospitals around the state than the day before, California’s average daily case count fell to its lowest point — approximately 15,500 per day over the past week — since the first days of December and its active hospitalizations to their lowest point since the second week of December. Just 6.1% of all coronavirus tests in the past week have come back positive, the state’s lowest positivity rate since the end of November.
However, after two days of declining deaths, there were another 634 reported around California on Thursday, slightly increasing its average death toll to about 503 per day over the past week. Although cases have been steadily declining for three weeks, deaths are the final lagging indicator and can trail the case curve by up to a month. Earlier this week, California’s death curve showed its first signs of bending, following sustained reductions in cases and hospitalizations.
From their respective peaks near the beginning of January, California’s cases have fallen by 65% — including 30% in the past week — and its active hospitalizations by 40%, including 18% in the past week. However, that period has also been California’s deadliest of the pandemic, accruing nearly 15,000 fatalities throughout the month of January and more than 2,100 through the first four days of February, bringing its overall death toll over 43,000.
Despite the widespread improvements, few parts of the state have been able to reopen beyond the removal of the stay-at-home order. Only three sparsely populated counties have advanced beyond the purple reopening tier and only a handful of others are close to the required threshold.
In the Bay Area, San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties are the closest to advancing past the purple tier, with adjusted case rates between 12.5 and 17.9 per day per 100,000 residents. Each has benefitted from a variable that lowers its case rate based on high rates of testing, though even the best-faring counties in the region remain some ways away from falling below the 7/100K case rate threshold.
In Southern California, only one county — San Luis Obispo — has an adjusted case rate below 30. In the Bay Area, only Solano County has an adjusted case rate that is above 30. In the state’s five most populous counties — all in Southern California — Los Angeles County has the lowest adjusted case rate at about 38.7 per 100,000, while Riverside County’s reaches as high as 62.3.
Southern California’s brutal battle with the virus has been reflected in its disproportionately high number of casualties.
Of the 634 deaths statewide on Thursday, 475 came in Southern California, or about three in every four, despite the region making up just over half the state’s population. Of the 10 highest county death tolls in the state Thursday, seven came in Southern California: 231 in Los Angeles, 75 in San Bernardino, 55 in San Diego, 50 in Orange, 31 in Riverside, 14 in Ventura and 14 in Santa Barbara.
In Santa Clara County on Thursday, the death toll surpassed 1,500 — the most in the Bay Area — with 32 newly reported fatalities, the fifth-most in the state. Overall, Santa Clara County’s 1,505 fatalities rank sixth in the state but on a per-capita basis fall behind 23 other counties. The 10 counties with the largest proportion of their populations lost to COVID-19 are all in Southern California or the San Joaquin Valley: Imperial, Los Angeles, Inyo, Stanislaus, Riverside, Tulare, Merced, Fresno, Madera and Kings.
In Alameda County, the death toll surpassed 1,000 — second only in the region to Santa Clara — with 22 newly reported fatalities. Its overall case count also went over 75,000 with 216 new cases on Thursday, a fraction of the cases it was reporting at the beginning of January.
As it crossed 43,000 on Thursday, California’s cumulative death toll pulled within a thousand of New York for the most in any state since the onset of the pandemic and is on pace to overtake it within the next week.
Nationally, some reporting anomalies on Thursday resulted in more than 5,000 new COVID-19 victims being added to the national death toll, which grew to more than 455,000, according to data collected by the New York Times. Even without the day’s faulty data, deaths continue to come at a pace of about 3,000 per day, and approximately 130,000 Americans continue to contact the virus each day.