COVID-19 has now killed 70,000 Californians, illustrating the still deadly consequences of the pandemic even as its latest wave recedes.
While that overall death toll is the highest in the country, other large states have experienced cumulative death rates during the pandemic that far exceed those in California. The Golden State’s cumulative pandemic death rate – 178.5 deaths per 100,000 population – is the 35th highest. For comparison, the rates are 284.4 in New York City, 278.2 in Florida, 240.5 in Texas and 235 in Pennsylvania, according to data compiled by The Times.
Still, the magnitude of California’s loss is staggering, equivalent to emptying an entire mid-sized city like Palo Alto, San Clemente, Camarillo, or Lynwood.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that we still have so many premature and largely preventable deaths every week from COVID,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said in a recent briefing.
Since June 20, the start of summer, the coronavirus has killed around 7,000 Californians. As of Thursday, the total death toll in the state is 70,010.
Although the number of new infections and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 statewide has been declining steadily for weeks, the number of daily deaths has remained high.
In the past week in California, an average of 97 people died from the disease each day, according to data from The Times. That’s a drop of about 9% from two weeks ago, even though the number of new day-to-day cases has fallen almost 30% over the same period.
The statewide average is similar to the daily death toll from COVID-19 after last year’s summer outbreak – long before vaccines were widely available, but at a time when authorities were shutting down or severely restricted business operations and restricted access to other public spaces in hopes of curbing the spread.
The nation is also facing a strain of the coronavirus – the Delta variant – which is far more contagious than any that circulated last year.
Although California enjoys abundant vaccines, inoculation rates are still lower than what is needed to achieve herd immunity, a threshold high enough to interrupt widespread transmission of the virus.
“More deaths and transmission of COVID could have been avoided if we had been a little more careful. Until more of our young people are vaccinated, we really need to take precautions – even though our case rates are low, ”said Dr Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Orange County assistant health worker.
As the number of infections decreases, the number of deaths will eventually decrease as well.
At the height of the Delta Wave, California was reporting nearly 15,000 new cases of coronavirus per day. More recently, this average has fallen to around 5,200.
Hospitalizations have also dropped. On Sunday, the daily number of coronavirus-positive patients receiving this level of care statewide fell below 4,000 for the first time since late July.
But while current trend lines are promising, officials are quick to point out that progress is not inevitable. The past year has shown how quickly the optimism of early fall can give way to winter devastation.
Similar hopes that the worst of the pandemic was over also faded last spring as the Delta variant swept across the country.
“We seem to have turned a corner in our fight against COVID. But we’ve already taken turns before hitting oncoming trains, ”Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine, said at a recent campus forum. “Part of the challenge for us is that Delta is much better at their job of infecting people than the original virus was. So our future will be determined in part by the answer to this question: Is Delta as bad as it gets? “
Another question, Wachter said, is whether rapid coronavirus tests will become ubiquitous and cheap – which will be essential in easily identifying those infected and preventing them from inadvertently spreading the virus to others.
The general consensus among officials and experts is that California is on track to have a much better fall and winter holiday season this year, as many residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
So far, more than 67% of Californians have received at least one dose and 61% are considered fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The Times.
As California eagerly awaits Halloween and other fall holidays, health officials and experts continue to be cautious in efforts to protect children still too young to get vaccinated. Activities such as treats or Halloween parties should be done outdoors and in small groups, as indoor gatherings without a mask pose a higher risk of transmission, officials said.
Experts also hope that vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 will be available in November. But to protect children who weren’t fully immunized before Thanksgiving, authorities are urging all family members and friends to get immunized.
“Reducing our vulnerability as a community relies on reducing the number of unvaccinated people,” Ferrer said. “The biggest increase in protection we’re going to get is making sure everyone has their first set of vaccines. “