Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in California are plummeting weeks after it appeared some hospitals were so overwhelmed they might have to start rationing care, and the state's top health official said Tuesday if the trends continue by early March the number of hospital patients will fall by half.
When cases were surging at an unprecedented rate in early December state officials used plunging intensive care unit capacities to issue stay-home orders for most of California. The situation was the most dire in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley regions, which exhausted all their regular ICU beds and stayed at 0% capacity through January.
But the capacity now has reached 9% in Southern California and 11% in the San Joaquin Valley and in four weeks the state projects the rates will increase to 44% and 35%, respectively. The other three regions of the state are in even better shape.
All stay-home orders have been lifted, though all but four rural counties continue to be in the strictest of four tiers for reopening.
In just over three weeks, the number of statewide ICU patients has fallen from a record high of just under 4,900 to about 3,800, while overall hospitalizations have dropped by a third. State models project that at this rate, the number of hospitalizations will fall from about 14,000 to around 6,500 a month from now.
In the last week, the state's rate of positive tests has dropped to 6.4%, which Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly termed another “positive sign about the trajectory of transmission across the state.”
The number of new virus cases reported Tuesday was just over 12,000, the lowest daily figure since November. In early January, daily counts routinely were above 40,000.
The record pace of deaths may also be starting to fall. After averaging 544 per day last week, the last three daily counts have averaged 371. The state's total is now above 41,000, the second highest level in the country after New York.
Ghaly urged residents to continue their vigilance and cautioned that another surge is possible if people gather irresponsibly for Super Bowl celebrations or if mutations of the virus become prevalent.