California nears 2 million cases of coronavirus just weeks after passing 1 million mark

The LA Times reports California is nearing a “morbid milestone” of 2 million COVID cases since the pandemic began:

It took almost 10 months for California to record its millionth confirmed coronavirus case.

Now, just six weeks after crossing that morbid milestone, the state is on the cusp of surpassing 2 million…

There are now 1.93 million confirmed coronavirus cases in California, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times.

That total includes 62,661 new cases reported Monday alone — by far the most confirmed in a single day since the pandemic began.

The state will likely pass 2 million cases on Christmas Eve. Most of that surge has taken place in the past two weeks with half a million cases reported in that time.

The real concern isn’t the number of cases but the number of cases that require hospitalization. The state has been running models of the infection which suggest there could be 99,000 COVID patients in hospitals by the beginning of next month. As of last month there were only 73,867 hospital beds in the entire state. Those numbers have gone up since then as hospitals adjust for the surge but at some point the problem isn’t just physical space and equipment it’s staffing. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s HHS Secretary, said some regions are likely to exceed even their surge capacity.

“We believe that 12% of today’s cases will be hospitalized 12 days from now,” Ghaly said. “Then 12% of those hospitalized patients will be admitted to the ICU for critical-care needs. With that in mind, looking at the cases day-over-day, the trajectory that we are on, we are worried that certain regions do exceed their existing capacity and may even go beyond the existing surge capacity they currently have planned.”

As it stands, two regions of California (out of 5) are already at 0% available ICU beds. That figures isn’t an absolute count. It allows for some percentage of ICU beds that will be needed for ordinary emergencies like heart attacks. But already some hospitals are reporting patients are being forced to wait for beds. At the moment all of the hardest hit areas are in southern California. LA, Orange County, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside have the most positive patients in the state.

But the lesson of 2020 is that no matter how bad things look, they can always get worse. Yesterday Gov. Newsom expressed concern about a new strain of the virus which may be more contagious than the one we have:

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that he’s been having discussions with airlines and others about the potential for new quarantine protocols from people flying into California from the United Kingdom in an effort to keep the more contagious variant of the virus out of the state. “I hope the federal government takes action in this space,” Newsom said. “They should.”

By Sunday, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all said they would ban incoming flights from the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the newly reinstituted lockdown measures, including travel restrictions and the shuttering of pubs, gyms, theaters and hair salons, were taken in response to findings that the genetic changes in the new strain could make the virus “up to 70% more transmissible.”

We’re starting to see the vaccine roll out here in California but it’s not going to be quick enough to prevent hospitals in southern California from being overwhelmed in the next few weeks. And northern California isn’t that far behind. That also means there zero chance the lockdowns now in place throughout the state are going to be lifted after three weeks. Gov. Newsom said yesterday those orders will be extended based on current trends. It would be great to think that 2021 will bring us a return to some kind of normalcy but for those of us in California it’s looking like things are going to get worse before they get better.

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