SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Despite signs California’s latest and most damaging wave of the pandemic is subsiding, the state nonetheless set a one-day record of 764 deaths Friday.
The jarring total comes as hospitalizations fell 10% over the last two weeks while the state’s testing positivity rate has plummeted by 15% over the last week.
According to Johns Hopkins University, California now has 3.1 million confirmed cases, nearly 900,000 more than Texas which has the second most. Friday’s announcement pushes the Golden State’s death toll to 35,853, trailing only New York with 41,854. The state’s previous daily high for deaths was 708 on Jan. 8.
The declining hospitalizations and new cases fall in line with the optimism expressed by state officials this week.
California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly told reporters on Tuesday the stabilizing trends have caused the state to back off earlier estimates of over 25,000 hospitalizations by February. He said the predicted holiday surge didn’t fully materialize and celebrated the fact the state’s effective reproductive number — a key indicator of community spread — has dropped below 1, meaning the average infected Californian spreads the disease to less than one person.
As of Friday, counties reported a total of 19,500 hospitalizations and 4,670 patients in intensive care.
But while the winter surge appears to have peaked, California continues to fail miserably on the vaccination front.
Although the Golden State has received more vaccine than any other state, it ranks dead last in percentage of shots used. The latest update by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows California has administered just 37% of its supply.
Despite recent assurances from Ghaly and Governor Gavin Newsom that emptying freezers and getting shots into arms is the state’s top priority, California is the only major state with a utilization rate of under 50%. Heavily populated states like Texas (57%), Florida (50%) and New York (51%) are all greatly outpacing California.
State officials have cited a variety of reasons for the delay in recent weeks, from lack of funding and communication with the federal government, technical and logistical hurdles as well as insufficient staffing. But while Newsom has touted the fact California has administered more total shots than any other state, it remains 45th in number of doses given per capita.
The state’s lagging rollout has drawn a broad spectrum of criticism from county health officials, hospitals and now a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
In a letter issued to Ghaly, 10 Assembly members ripped the state’s recent announcement that residents over the age of 65 could begin receiving vaccines. They claim the announcement wasn’t fleshed out and resulted in “mass confusion” as hospitals weren’t equipped to handle the flood of seniors looking for the vaccine.
“Seniors are being told by the governor that they can get vaccinated, but not enough doses exist in the state to start vaccinating seniors,” the biting letter states. “Hospital systems are being given vaccines directly from the state, but county public health officials don’t have access to the data showing how many doses the hospitals in their county have received and haven’t been empowered to direct hospitals how to distribute those doses. Californians deserve a transparent state government that works for them.”
The newly elected state Senate Republican leader said in a statement the blame for California’s dismal vaccine ranking lies with the governor.
"The governor's byzantine distribution process was a failure from day one. We had months to plan an effective and efficient vaccination distribution plan that vaccinated as many people in the shortest amount of time but instead we are dead last in the rollout. This is another example of the administration completely missing the mark and this time it is costing lives,” said state Senator Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita.
Amid the confusion, the state this week quietly launched a pilot site where Californians are supposed to be able to find out when they are eligible to be vaccinated as well as make appointments. Users can also register on the “My Turn” website to receive notifications about when their turn for the potentially life-saving vaccine is up.
Citing insufficient supplies from the federal government, the state acknowledged this week it could take until June before all California seniors are vaccinated.
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