California hits 2.5 million coronavirus cases, adding 1 million in less than a month

Coronavirus infections in California reached 2.5 million Wednesday, another alarming milestone that underscores an unprecedented surge that has overwhelmed hospitals and is expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

According to The Times tracker, 1 of every 16 people in the state has tested positive for the virus at some point during the pandemic, with the number of new cases exploding by more than 1 million in less than a month.

The numbers show how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading, with some areas like Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire and Central Valley particularly hard hit.

Officials have said stay-at-home measures imposed in late November have helped — but a rise in travel and social gatherings amid a slew of winter holidays have take a heavy toll.

L.A. County reached another distressing milestone, surpassing 11,000 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday.

Over the past week, the county averaged 183 COVID-19 deaths a day — the equivalent of one every eight minutes — and 13,500 new coronavirus infections, a count expected to grow with the reopening of testing sites after the holidays. The county’s cumulative coronavirus case count now tops 841,000.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that she anticipates later this week that the county will start experiencing greater increases in daily coronavirus cases.

L.A. County has been averaging between 13,000 and 15,000 cases a day for the last two weeks when all the testing sites are up and running and not closed for holidays, she said.

“The question is, do they go as high as they did before?” Ferrer asked.

While people did travel more and socialize over the holidays, despite officials’ pleas for people to stay at home, Ferrer said she hoped L.A. County residents would adhere to the new mandatory order for travelers to quarantine themselves if they’ve left the Southern California region and have returned.

“The higher the numbers of new cases, the higher the number will be of people who are ending up needing care in the hospital,” Ferrer said. “And for many of the people who go into the hospital for care, they have significantly longer lengths of stay than other people seeking care at the hospital.”

COVID-19 patients now average six or seven days in the hospital until they’re discharged or die.

“That then translates again into thousands and thousands of people being in the hospital each day with COVID-19,” Ferrer said. “We’re already in a desperate situation,” she said, noting that in L.A. County, there have been many days where more than 150 people are dying a day.

“Today, I’m more troubled than ever before,” she said. “This is a health crisis of epic proportions.”

Across the state, hospitals and healthcare workers are scrambling to adjust to the surge.

Methodist Hospital of Southern California has taken the grim step of convening a triage team that will “make the difficult, but necessary decisions about allocating limited resources” to critically ill patients “based on the best medical information available,” officials said in a statement.

As of Wednesday, that team “has yet to find the need to ration any care,” said Cliff Daniels, a senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Arcadia-based hospital.

Officials in Fresno County are vying for oxygen-making machines to care for the rising tide of those sick with COVID-19, as the number of bodies has placed greater pressure on funeral homes. Officials in California’s 10th most populous county say the situation is not as severe as that in Los Angeles County. But health officials are seeking to ease pressure on hospitals by sending home COVID-19 patients who would normally stay in the hospital — and to do so, they’re searching for machines that can generate oxygen for patients at home.

“It’s a very grave scenario to make that decision,” said Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra. “Because under normal conditions, under ideal conditions, everyone who needs oxygen would be admitted to the hospital. Unfortunately, we’re operating in a disaster, and so we don’t have that luxury, and we have to make really hard choices and do the best that we can.”

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