Projections show California COVID-19 cases and deaths rising more than expected

Protesters in Huntington Beach call for lifting virus restrictions.
Protesters call for opening churches and lifting remaining virus restrictions in California during a protest Saturday in Huntington Beach.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

California is one of a handful of states where coronavirus cases and deaths are rising faster than researchers expected, according to the latest calculations in a widely relied-upon model of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the institute’s latest projections suggested the nationwide fatality count would reach 137,000 by Aug. 4. It stands now at nearly 80,000.

The picture is mixed in some of the country’s most populous states, he said.

“Some good-ish news coming out of New York and New Jersey and Michigan, where the death cases and death numbers are coming down faster than expected,” he said. “Some other states where cases and deaths are going up more than we expected — Illinois and then Arizona, Florida, California as examples of that.”


The researchers are now predicting that California could see more than 6,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of August, up about 1,420 from projections they released on Monday. It’s the fifth-largest increase in projected death tolls among the U.S. states, after Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona and Florida.

The upward revisions “are a result of a combination of updated daily death and case data, recent actions to ease previously implemented social distancing measures, and steadily rising levels of mobility in many places,” the researchers said in notes released with the data.

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May 12, 2020

California added 2,244 coronavirus cases and 64 related deaths on Saturday. About 40% of the new cases — 907 — were reported by Los Angeles County, as were 45 of the new deaths, or about 70% of the statewide death toll.

The state had recorded 826 more cases and 23 more deaths by Sunday afternoon, bringing its total to more than 67,500 cases and 2,700 deaths. In L.A. County, the toll rose to 31,703 coronavirus cases and 1,531 related deaths.

The continued increase has prompted public health officials to urge caution even as some recreation areas and businesses are permitted to reopen.

“The virus has not changed,” Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said Friday. “It can still spread easily, and it can still result in serious illness and death.”


In the latest step toward easing restrictions, Long Beach will reopen beach bike and pedestrian paths, as well as tennis courts and the parking lots of public parks, on Monday. Beaches and beach parking lots will remain closed.

People who use the parks, paths and tennis courts will be required to stay six feet apart and refrain from lingering or gathering in groups. Gatherings and picnics remain prohibited.

San Bernardino County reported its largest one-day increase in new cases Saturday, adding 273 cases and three deaths for a total of 2,902 cases and 114 deaths. Some of the new cases are linked to an outbreak at the California Institution for Men in Chino, where at least 386 inmates had been infected and four had died as of Sunday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Case counts also have shot up in Santa Barbara County, where an outbreak at Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc has sickened 862 inmates and 14 staff. At a neighboring medium-security prison on the same grounds, 114 inmates and 20 staff have become infected, officials said. Two inmates have died after contracting the virus there.

Combined, the two federal prisons in Lompoc have 976 infected inmates, making it the largest federal penitentiary outbreak in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. That accounts for roughly 75% of the 1,308 cases reported by Santa Barbara County to date. Of the 58 new cases the county reported on Sunday, 56 were associated with the federal prison complex in Lompoc, officials said.

The country’s second-largest outbreak at a federal prison was at Terminal Island in San Pedro, where on Saturday a 70-year-old man became the seventh inmate to die after testing positive for the virus. Scott Cutting, who was serving a 26-month sentence for aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, had been hospitalized since April 14, officials said.

A total of 699 inmates and 15 staff members at the Terminal Island federal prison had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Sunday, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The virus continues to spread in Orange County, where the number of new cases is doubling every 18.5 days, compared with every 22.8 days in Los Angeles County and every 24.3 days in Riverside County.

Orange County recorded 122 more cases and two new deaths Sunday, bringing its total to 3,502 cases and 76 deaths. There were 178 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals, including 59 in intensive care.

The county has been the site of numerous acts of resistance against statewide stay-at-home orders since they were announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19.

Demonstrators have been gathering regularly in Huntington Beach to protest the rules, most recently on Saturday, when a crowd of about 1,500 people amassed to call for the state and nation to fully reopen. Similar protests also have taken place in San Clemente, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Some businesses have chosen to reopen in defiance of the orders, including a surf-themed restaurant in San Clemente that reportedly became so busy that it ran out of food.

The county’s beaches also became flashpoints for controversy last month, when Newsom ordered their temporary closure after some became crowded with visitors during a heat wave. Many local officials publicly challenged the decision, saying beachgoers were following social distancing rules and news photographs that showed crowding were misleading.

The beaches reopened this week after local officials agreed to permit active use only, but the city of Huntington Beach is moving forward with a lawsuit challenging Newsom’s temporary closure. The city of Newport Beach filed an amicus brief in support of the action.

Though urban and densely populated counties have been hit hardest by the virus, there were also signs it was spreading to some rural areas.

Trinity County reported its first case of the coronavirus on Friday, the county public health department said in a news release. Officials released few details but said they were working on identifying others who might have been exposed.

Murray, of the University of Washington, also said Sunday that scientists were tracking how much people were moving about in states where businesses were reopening — and that the additional movement would translate into more infections, hospitalizations and deaths in about the next week and a half.

“We’re just seeing explosive increases in mobility,” he said, “in a number of states that we expect will translate into more cases and deaths, you know, in 10 days from now.”

That is particularly true, he said, in states such as Georgia, which moved more quickly than most to ease shutdowns. “Somewhere like Georgia, which was one of the first — it is in the category of a big increase,” he said.

Other emerging hot spots, he said, include Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.