SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Thanks to a new daily high of over 12,800 new cases, California on Wednesday secured the dubious distinction of having the most coronavirus cases in the United States.
Since the pandemic began California counties have reported over 409,000 cases, eclipsing New York’s total by about 500. Along with the new records, 115 people infected with the virus died on Tuesday — hiking the state’s death toll to 7,870.
Governor Gavin Newsom called the dire update clear proof of the virus’ persistent and damaging run through the nation’s largest state.
“It’s just another proof-point of how deadly this disease continues to be,” Newsom said.
Despite having the most infections, according to Johns Hopkins University California averages far fewer cases and deaths per 100,000 residents than New York. Florida is third on the list with 379,000 cases and Texas with 353,000.
Newsom and state officials cautioned reporters not to “overread” into the disconcerting figure due to the state’s population and size.
“We’re a state again the size of 21 states combined, so it’s not surprising in some respects as we’ve begun to reopen,” Newsom told reporters. “Nonetheless, a sober reminder of why we are taking things as seriously as we are.”
Newsom decided to halt California’s reopening last week due to the rising number of counties deemed budding coronavirus hotspots by public health officials.
Over 30 counties are on a watchlist based on data including the number of new infections per 100,000 residents, test positivity rate and the change in hospitalization rate, among others. The obvious goal is to slow the virus’ spread through urban centers like Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento counties, along with more rural counties like Kings, Sonoma and Sutter.
Even with the second lockdown, which includes a ban on indoor dining and religious services, counties on the watchlist shouldn’t expect a quick reduction in cases and hospitalizations.
“It may take up to three, four, even five weeks to feel the full impact of some of those changes,” said California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly on Tuesday.
After earning praise from experts and even the Trump administration for its early pandemic response, California is suddenly back on the defensive four months later.
Hospital capacity statewide remains adequate, but smaller counties like San Joaquin and Stanislaus are quickly running out of intensive care beds.
“This is scary stuff — and right in our backyard. Please be safe folks,” tweeted Rep. Josh Harder, D-Modesto.
Between January and June, only heart disease killed more people in Los Angeles County than the novel coronavirus according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health. Wednesday marked the 14th consecutive day with over 2,200 Angelenos hospitalized with the virus, 27% of whom are in ICU.
With 3,266 new cases reported in the last 24 hours, 164,817 LA County residents have been diagnosed with the virus since the outbreak began. The seven-day average of new cases has steadily risen and now averages 2,952 per day.
The county Department of Public Health reported 64 Angelenos died of the virus in the last 24 hours — 45 victims were over the age of 65 and 18 were between the ages of 41 and 65. Thirteen of the deaths occurred in skilled nursing facilities.
LA County’s death toll stands at 4,216, 92% of whom suffered from underlying health conditions. The county is currently averaging 30 deaths per day.
Communities of color have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with Latino residents experiencing more than double the rate of infection than their white neighbors. Black residents are 25% more likely than white residents to become infected with the virus, and twice as likely to die from it according to county data.
Among reported deaths, 40% have been Latino, 26% white, 15% Asian, 11% Black and less than 1% are Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.
Impoverished neighborhoods have also borne the brunt of the pandemic, accounting for 2 ½ times more cases than affluent areas. Individuals experiencing poverty are four times more likely to die from the virus.
The infection rate among young people is spiking as well. There’s been a 50% increase in hospitalizations of infected people under 18 over the last two weeks when compared to the same time period a month ago. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 currently account for the largest increase in cases among age groups.
As a result, federal doctors and nurses have been deployed to overburdened hospitals statewide while the state is again scrambling to find medical equipment.
Newsom claimed Wednesday the state is burning through 46 million masks per month, forcing him to extend a controversial contract with a Chinese auto manufacturer for hundreds of millions more N95 masks and surgical coverings. He says other deals made with American-based companies simply aren’t enough to fulfill the state’s needs, noting that a contract with 3M to supply 12 million N95 masks has thus far only produced 290,000.
Newsom roiled lawmakers in April when he went on MSNBC to announce he was dipping into the emergency pandemic fund for a $1 billion mask deal with China-based BYD Auto. Critics said Newsom should have sourced supplies from American-based companies while reporters blasted the governor for keeping contract details under wraps for weeks.
Flanked by boxes inside a state warehouse in Sacramento, Newsom defended the deal and added the state would continue to spare no expense in stockpiling masks.
“We need to go big and continue to be bold in our procurement,” Newsom said of the deal with BYD to produce over 400 million more masks.
With federal unemployment funds set to expire, the Democratic governor once again pushed Congress and President Donald Trump to pass another round of pandemic relief. He warned renters were “walking toward the edge of a cliff,” when asked about soon-expiring eviction moratoriums.
On the state level, Newsom said he’s talking with the Legislature on potential eviction relief along with enhanced workers’ compensation and sick leave programs.
California’s 14-day positivity rate — a key indicator of community spread — remains at 7.4% while the state’s 7-day average of new cases is over 9,400. Meanwhile an average of 90 infected people died daily over the last week.
Newsom claimed the length of California’s pandemic fight continues to rely heavily on whether residents comply with mask orders and stay away from each other as the summer rolls on.
“We will succeed in extinguishing this virus; we will succeed in going back to some semblance of normalcy when we get this vaccine, when we work through the therapeutics efforts and when we get on the other side of this.”