California COVID surge shows early signs of leveling off

13 Jan 2021 / 10:22 H.

    By Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES, Jan 12 (Reuters) - California's deadly surge in COVID-19 infections is showing early signs of leveling off after besieging hospitals, morgues and ambulance services for weeks, but the crisis remains far from over, the state's top health official said Tuesday.

    The number of newly hospitalized coronavirus patients statewide has declined to 2,500 admissions every 24 hours over the past two days from a previous daily average of about 3,500 new admissions, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an online briefing with reporters.

    Ghaly called it "the biggest signal to me that things are beginning to flatten and potentially improve."

    He cited several other promising trends, including a slowdown in confirmed daily case numbers - 36,487 reported Tuesday, down from a seven-day average of about 42,000 cases every 24 hours - and a leveling off in the rate of diagnostic tests coming back positive, stabilizing at 13.5% after weeks of a steep upward climb.

    He also pointed to a reduced rate in the uptick of the number of COVID patients in hospitals, standing at 21,747 on Tuesday, up 5.5% over the past two weeks. He said that marked lowest rate of increase since late October, when California last saw a week-on-week decline in hospitalized COVID patients.

    COVID-related deaths, considered a "lagging indicator" in the trajectory of the pandemic, have continued to mount steadily, crossing the grim milestone of 30,000 killed by the respiratory virus in California to date as of Tuesday, Ghaly said. Nearly 550 more deaths have been reported statewide since Monday.

    He also expressed a note of caution that the current post-Christmas and New Year's surge, while appearing to be less severe than anticipated, had not yet peaked.

    "Earlier this year, we had a significant number of big-case days, and those cases will ... continue to be admitted into our hospitals in the days to come, so we continue to look at the data," he said.

    He urged the public not to become complacent about mask-wearing, social distancing and other public-health measures designed to curb the spread of the virus until vaccines become widely available to the public.

    "If you give COVID an inch it will take a mile. So we must keep our guard up," he said.

    California, the nation's most populous state, with some 40 million residents, has emerged as a leading U.S. epicenter of the pandemic despite health officials' re-imposing some of the country's most stringent restrictions on social gatherings and business activity in early December.

    The return to sweeping stay-at-home orders was instituted as surging infections drove hospital intensive care units (ICUs) to the limits of their capacity, especially in and around Los Angeles, home to about half the state's population, and elsewhere in Southern California.

    The state's agricultural heartland in the San Joaquin Valley has also been particularly hard hit. Available ICU capacities in both regions have remained effectively at zero for the past month.

    In terms of immunizations, Ghaly said the state remained committed to its immediate goal of administering an initial vaccine dose to 1 million more Californians by this weekend.

    As part of its program to ramp up inoculations, the state is establishing large-scale vaccination centers at four major public venues - Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park baseball arena in San Diego, the Cal Expo fairgrounds in Sacramento, and Disneyland in Anaheim. (Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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