Wednesday January 26th, 2022 5:44AM

California coronavirus death count tops 70,000 as cases fall

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's coronavirus death toll reached another once-unfathomable milestone — 70,000 people — on Monday as the state emerges from the latest infection surge with the lowest rate of new cases among all states.

Last year at this time, cases in the state started ticking up and by January California was in the throes of the worst spike of the pandemic and was the nation’s epicenter for the virus. Daily deaths approached 700.

The latest surge started in summer and was driven by the delta variant that primarily targeted the unvaccinated. At its worst during this spike, California’s average daily death count was in the low 100s.

Data collected by Johns Hopkins University showed the state with 70,132 deaths by midday Monday. It's the most in the nation, surpassing Texas by about 3,000 and Florida by 13,000, although California’s per capita fatality rate of 177 per 100,000 people is well below the overall U.S. rate of 214.

“There's very little if anything ever to compare that to," Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, said of the level of deaths.

”Take a moment of silence and reflection on what that’s meant for Californians,” he said. “Families that have lost more than one family member, key breadwinners, people who couldn’t protect themselves.”

The most populous state is in a much better situation as it enters the colder months this year. It has been a national leader in vaccinations while others who survived the virus acquired a natural immunity that also helps prevent severe illness and death.

Even if there is a new surge, “the level of life-altering behaviors may be different this time around than we saw last winter,” Ghaly told The Associated Press.

He does not expect California to lock down as it did last year with business closures, social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions.

“That is not what we’re talking about," he said. “I think vaccines plus masks in certain (indoor) settings is going to be a significant support of us getting through anything that COVID throws at us in the future.”

A year ago, “there were all these debates, should we have Halloween vs. no Halloween,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. “I think this winter is going to be a lot better than last winter, especially in California."

More than 70% of Californians are now fully vaccinated and another 8% partially so, she noted. That compares to about one-third who had antibodies against the coronavirus in February, before the rollout of vaccines and as California was recovering from a surge that strained hospitals to the breaking point.

Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz, projects that the current level of immunity is still too low to avert another surge, particularly because people are tired of safety precautions.

Still, “it will primarily be those people who have not been infected before and those who are not vaccinated that will suffer the highest consequences,” Kilpatrick said.

California was the first to impose a statewide stay-at-home order, in March 2020, and that aggressive action by Gov. Gavin Newsom was credited by many with sparing the state from the kind of surge that devastated New York City early in the pandemic.

But later Newsom faced criticism that he was too slow to remove restrictions on businesses and activities. He ultimately faced a recall election last month and voters overwhelmingly chose to keep him in office.

Even as cases fell, Newsom recently announced the nation's first plan to require all eligible schoolchildren to be vaccinated. The state also requires masks in school.

But the state's local governments have been imposing and lifting requirements on their own, creating a confusing patchwork of regulations.

In Los Angeles County, a vaccine requirement just took effect for customers at indoor bars, wineries and a small group of other businesses. But in the city of Los Angeles, a far more aggressive vaccine mandate that applies to virtually all indoor businesses is set to take effect next month. No counties around Los Angeles County have such mandates.

In Northern California, San Francisco and several nearby counties announced plans to begin easing masking requirements as conditions improve. On Friday, Newsom called that “an encouraging sign,” while also offering caution about moving too quickly.

“This time last year we were experiencing not dissimilar optimism, only to experience that winter surge,” he said.

California has the lowest per capita rate of new coronavirus cases in the country. It is one of only two states that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates as having a “substantial" rate of transmission, which is a step below the “high" rate that all other states have.

California recorded 67 cases per 100,000 people in the last week; the nation's average is 195. And the state's positivity rate in the last seven days was 2.5% while the country averaged 6.1%

The rate at which each infected person spreads the disease, known as the R-effective, has been dropping steadily in California since mid-July and now is at 0.78 statewide. Anything below 1 means the number of infected persons will decrease.

Statewide, hospitalizations crested at nearly 22,200 and ICU admissions at almost 5,000 in January. There are now about 4,100 hospitalizations and 1,100 intensive care cases, down from 8,220 and 2,100, respectively, a month ago.

Gandhi thinks California is nearing levels where it could lift most precautions and accept living with a virus that won't go away but one that isn't likely to kill or seriously injure most vaccinated people. She said California seems unlikely to lift restrictions until children 5-11 are widely vaccinated and there are improvements in the rest of the nation.

Meantime, the upcoming flu season will present its own challenges as health care providers test patients to sort out common symptoms from the coronavirus.

Ghaly said the state has been preparing for a crush of testing. Dr. Lee Riley, chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, expects problems.

“We’re probably going to overwhelm the testing service,” Riley said. Moreover, he said the flu can make even vaccinated people more susceptible to lung damage and other severe symptoms.

With that caution, Ghaly predicted that this winter the vaccinated, perhaps while masked, can “continue to move around the cabin, if you will, and enjoy some of the things that last year we didn’t get to enjoy.”

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Health
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
California coronavirus death count tops 70,000 as cases fall
California’s coronavirus death toll has reached another once-unfathomable milestone: 70,000 people
3:27PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Israel a step closer to commercial drones with latest tests
Dozens of drones have flown across Tel Aviv in an experiment that officials believe could pave the way for commercial drone use across Israel
3:20PM ( 15 minutes ago )
1st executive to head to prison in doomed nuclear project
A former utility executive who lost billions on a failed nuclear project in South Carolina is heading to prison soon
3:19PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Southwest cancels hundreds more flights, denies sickout
Southwest Airlines has canceled hundreds more flights following a weekend of major service disruptions that it blamed on bad weather and air traffic control issues
2:53PM ( 42 minutes ago )
Moderna has no plans to share its COVID-19 vaccine recipe
The chairman of Moderna says the company has no plans to share the recipe for its COVID-19 vaccine because executives have concluded that scaling up their own production is the best way to increase the global supply
2:52PM ( 43 minutes ago )
California's 'Surf City USA' beach reopens after oil spill
A popular Southern California beach that was closed for more than a week after an undersea pipeline leaked crude into ocean waters has reopened and far sooner than many expected
2:39PM ( 56 minutes ago )
AP National News
Southern California beach set to reopen after oil spill
Officials say a popular Southern California beach that had been closed since an undersea pipeline leaked crude into ocean waters is set to reopen on Monday
9:12AM ( 6 hours ago )
Cyberattacks concerning to most in US: Pearson/AP-NORC poll
Most Americans across party lines have serious concerns about cyberattacks on U.S. computer systems and view China and Russia as major threats
8:31AM ( 7 hours ago )
Allen, Bills beat Chiefs 38-20 in AFC title game rematch
Josh Allen threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Buffalo Bills beat the Kansas City Chiefs 38-20 on Sunday night
1:27AM ( 14 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
The Latest: WHO advisers urge 3rd shot for some people
An expert group advising the World Health Organization is recommending that older people and those with compromised immune systems get an extra dose of COVID-19 vaccine as part of their regular schedule
2:55PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Russia's new COVID-19 infections, deaths near all-time highs
Russia’s daily coronavirus infections and deaths are hovering near all-time highs amid a lagging vaccination rate and the Kremlin’s reluctance to toughen restrictions
2:06PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Sri Lanka to start vaccinating schoolchildren
Sri Lankan authorities have decided to inoculate schoolchildren for COVID-19 starting next week
4:54AM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Health
Israel a step closer to commercial drones with latest tests
Dozens of drones have flown across Tel Aviv in an experiment that officials believe could pave the way for commercial drone use across Israel
3:20PM ( 15 minutes ago )
1st executive to head to prison in doomed nuclear project
A former utility executive who lost billions on a failed nuclear project in South Carolina is heading to prison soon
3:19PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Partial results show pro-Iran groups losing Iraq election
Preliminary results in Iraq's elections show an alliance of pro-Iran candidates emerging as the biggest loser in the country's national elections
3:15PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Fiona Hill, a nobody to Trump and Putin, saw into them both
In her new book, Fiona Hill lays out her experiences as the Russia adviser in Donald Trump’s White House and the circumstances behind her riveting congressional testimony in Trump's first impeachment
3:09PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Changed race, familiar result: Kenyans sweep Boston Marathon
Benson Kipruto won the pandemic-delayed Boston Marathon as the race returned from a 30-month absence and moved to the fall for the first time in its 125-year history
3:05PM ( 30 minutes ago )