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

COVID patients are housed in a makeshift ER unit in a tent at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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 areas such as Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire and the 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 taken a heavy toll.

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

Over the past week, the county has 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.

“We’re experiencing the unfortunate, but expected, surge in cases from the holidays. And this will only lead to more severe consequences for our healthcare system and for everyone who lives and works in L.A. County,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.

The rate at which coronavirus tests are coming up positive has quintupled since Nov. 1, when it was less than 4%, to nearly 22% as of New Year’s Eve, county health officials said.


Ferrer said the average number of deaths in the county has also skyrocketed, from about 12 a day in early November to more than 200 now.

“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. Roughly three-quarters of all staffed ICU beds are now occupied by patients with COVID-19, health officials said.

“Our ICU beds are exhausted across Los Angeles County,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the L.A. County director of health services.

“Today, I’m more troubled than ever before,” Ferrer said. “This is a health crisis of epic proportions and we need everyone — I mean everyone — to use the tools right in front of them to help us drive down transmission of this deadly virus.”

Across the state, hospitals and healthcare workers are scrambling to keep up with the surge.

The hospital has convened a triage team that will make the ‘difficult, but necessary decisions’ about allocating resources to critically ill patients.

Jan. 6, 2021


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.

Ferrer said, “There really is no path forward to helping our hospitals unless we get the case numbers down. There just isn’t.

“This is not sustainable, and it’s not appropriate for a county like ours to not be able to come together and find a path forward that doesn’t ... continue to jeopardize our healthcare system and put people’s lives at risk,” she said.

In Fresno County, health officials 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.”