California on Wednesday became the first state to record more than 2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a devastating milestone that comes as many hospitals are running out of space for the critically ill. Just 1 percent of intensive-care unit beds are available statewide, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. While it took California more than nine months to hit 1 million cases, the state added its second million in less than six weeks, according to the San Jose Mercury News — and that’s without data from some counties.
The current surge, which comes as almost all of California is under a stay-home order, is believed to be driven largely by people who defied the warnings of public health experts and gathered for Thanksgiving, according to the Associated Press. Now, with soaring cases and more than 18,000 people hospitalized, health officials are bracing for the situation to get even worse as people gather to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. “Pick up your phone right now. Cancel any gathering with people who do not live with you,” Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the director of health care preparedness for Santa Clara County, told the Mercury News. The county had just 35 ICU beds available earlier this week.
In Los Angeles County, which makes up one-third of all of California’s COVID-19 cases and almost 40 percent of deaths, Wednesday brought the highest number of single-day deaths and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic: 145 dead and more than 6,000 hospitalized. “We know that this emergency is our darkest day, maybe the darkest day in our city’s history,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
In the nearby Inland Empire, the situation is particularly dire. “An analysis of coronavirus case rates in communities for which data are available found that, of the top 50, about half of them were in the Inland Empire,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Among them is San Bernardino County, where new infections are rising faster than in any other county in California on a per capita basis: in the past week, there were roughly 1,800 coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents, according to the Times. The county’s top health official said the surge is “by far” driven by small gatherings among family and friends, followed by religious gatherings and funerals.
Among the factors driving the exponential surge is the county’s resistance to state mandates aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Times. Local officials have pushed back against pandemic-related restrictions, including Newsom’s stay-home directive, which the county recently asked the California Supreme Court to overturn. That resistance sends a potentially risky message to residents, say some public health experts. “If someone is seeing their local leadership saying the rules don’t make sense, then they might feel as if they don’t need to follow the rules,” Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told the Times.