California, the Bay Area and the country set more morbid milestones Wednesday as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on.
In the United States, it was the first day with a death toll greater than September 11, 2001. In California, the past seven days have been its deadliest of the pandemic, and there were more than 30,000 new infections for the third straight day. Here, in Santa Clara County, intensive care units at three hospitals are completely full, with capacity dwindling across the state.
None of 101,000 new cases in California the past 72 hours have been accounted for in the state’s record-setting death toll over the past week, an indication that figure will continue to swell further past the summer peak. On Wednesday, another 198 fatalities from COVID-19 brought the seven-day total to 1,021, or an average of about 146 per day, for California’s deadliest week of the pandemic; its only other week with more than 1,000 reported deaths came July 31-Aug. 6.
California’s average daily case count has exploded to 26,700 over the past week — an 80% week-over-week increase — after county health departments combined to report 32,191 new cases of the virus Wednesday, according to data compiled by this news organization. On a per-capita basis, the infection rate here has surged past the national average for the first time since the end of August.
In the Bay Area, there are still fewer cases per-capita, but transmission is rising and, even as one of two regions meeting the state-mandated threshold for capacity, intensive care units are still filling fast. As a region, more than 20% of ICU beds remain open, according to the latest figures from the state. But in Santa Clara County, where hospitalizations have risen 80% in the past two weeks, nine in 10 ICU beds are full.
On Wednesday, county health officials said that O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy had hit their ICU limits, in addition to Regional Medical Center in San Jose, where ICUs reached full capacity Tuesday.
Santa Clara County also reported a record 1,685 new infections Wednesday, fueling the second-largest number of new cases the Bay Area has seen since the onset of the pandemic. Across the region, there were another 3,836 new cases Wednesday — second only to the total from two days ago — and the per-capita infection rate rose to about 38.4 daily cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, a 68% week-over-week increase and five-and-a-half times higher than the start of November.
In Los Angeles County, health officer Dr. Barbara Ferrer fought back tears as she described a “devastating increase in deaths” to come and the “incalculable loss” that has already been felt from the 8,075 lives lost to the virus in the county since the pandemic began. With an average of about 48 per day over the past week, the daily death toll in LA County has increased by threefold in the past month and is near its highest point of the pandemic. The per-capita infection rate in Los Angeles, which has spiked 70% in the past week, would now rank among the top 10 states nationwide, at about 86.9 daily infections per 100,000 over the past week.
“Since these deaths reflect our case counts from a month ago and as cases have continued to increase the past few weeks, we will bear witness to a significant rise in the number of people who are dying,” Ferrer said.
Fewer than 10% of ICU beds remain open in all of Southern California, and fewer than 5% in all of the San Joaquin Valley, according to the state, while the Greater Sacramento region just fell below the 15% threshold that will force the region into a stay-at-home order for at least the next three weeks. Statewide, ICU capacity has dwindled to 11.6%.
The majority of the fatalities from COVID-19 continue to come in Southern California, with Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties combing to account for nearly 60% of the deaths statewide on Wednesday. Those counties, along with Orange and San Bernardino, have accounted for 66% of the deaths from COVID-19 in California since the beginning of the pandemic, despite making up just over half the state’s population.
Bay Area counties combined to report a total of nine fatalities on Wednesday, about 4.5% of the statewide tally, and about 10% of all the deaths in California over the course of the pandemic, despite making up about a fifth of the state’s population.
But California accounted for just a sliver of the nationwide death toll Wednesday. The 198 fatalities were its fourth-most of the pandemic but made up just a 6% share of the deaths nationwide, about half of California’s share of the U.S. population.
The country set a grim record Wednesday: its most deaths from COVID-19 on any single day of the pandemic thus far. A total of 3,055 Americans were added to the nation’s growing death toll, according to the New York Times, the first time a single day’s death toll from COVID-19 exceeded the lives lost in the September 11 attacks.
More than 15.4 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, including more than 1.4 million in California, and nearly 290,000 have perished from the virus, including more than 20,000 Californians. According to the COVID Tracking Project, more than 106,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus, the highest total of the pandemic.