California passes 30,000 COVID-19 deaths amid continuing surge

The body of a deceased COVID patient lies in a room at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California continued to see a dramatic surge Sunday in its number of COVID-19 deaths as the state surpassed another milestone: 30,000 fatalities.

The pace of daily COVID-19 deaths has climbed since the most recent surge began in November. On Nov. 3, California was recording about 40 deaths a day; by Thanksgiving, about 70 deaths a day; and by Christmas, about 220 deaths a day. By Sunday night, California was recording an average of 481 deaths a day for the previous week, a record.

It took roughly six months for California to record its 10,000th death, which came Aug. 6, and four more months to record its 20,000th death, which was logged Dec. 8. California recorded its 30,003rd death Sunday night, just about one month later, according to a survey of local health jurisdictions conducted by The Times.

Five of the highest single-day death tallies for California have been recorded in the last week.


The most recent single-day death record for California occurred Friday, when 685 deaths were recorded, breaking the previous record of 575 deaths tallied on New Year’s Eve. An additional 456 deaths were tallied statewide Saturday, the sixth-highest single-day tally, and 297 on Sunday.

California is recording an increasing number of daily coronavirus cases after a post-Christmas lull. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, the state had an average of 45,000 coronavirus cases a day, a record; that stabilized to between 35,000 and 40,000 cases a day until Thursday.

But the seven-day average of new cases rose to nearly 45,000 by Sunday night, the second-highest such number of the pandemic.

The post-Christmas surge in new coronavirus cases has been growing by the day. L.A. County’s average number of new coronavirus cases Thursday, Friday and Saturday was about 18,000 — significantly above the average of about 14,000 new cases a day over the last week.

“This very clearly is the latest surge from the winter holidays and New Year’s — no question about it,” Dr. Paul Simon, the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s chief science officer, said Friday. “It had gradually started earlier in the week, but [definitely] here in the last day or two.”

A survey of local health jurisdictions in L.A. County found 13,247 new coronavirus cases reported Sunday and 162 deaths. The daily tallies for Sundays are generally lower because of reporting delays over the weekend.

L.A. County is now averaging about 211 COVID-19 deaths a day, a record. That’s a far more accelerated pace than the number from Christmas, when L.A. County was averaging about 80 deaths a day, and Thanksgiving, when about 30 deaths a day were recorded.


There continues to be ongoing pressure on California’s overloaded intensive care units. According to data released Sunday, the number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s ICUs climbed to a record 4,863 on Saturday. That’s about triple the number from Thanksgiving.

About 22,000 COVID-19 patients were in California’s hospitals Saturday. That number has remained relatively flat for the last week. Officials expect the number of hospitalizations to start worsening this week, as people who were infected over Christmas start to become ill. What’s still not fully known is how bad the post-holiday surge will be in the hospitals.

L.A. County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have been stable in recent days, hovering between 7,900 and 8,100 patients, including about 1,700 in the ICU.

The ICUs in L.A. County are effectively out of available space. There are typically about 2,000 staffed ICU beds in the county, and as of last week, about 400 were occupied by non-COVID patients.

In recent days, available ICU beds in the county fell to zero or one in each of the following regions: central L.A., the Westside, southeast L.A. County, the San Gabriel Valley and the Antelope Valley. The South Bay-and-Long Beach region had as few as three available ICU beds in recent days, and the San Fernando Valley as few as six.

An increasing percentage of people infected with the coronavirus are now dying of COVID-19 in L.A. County without any underlying health conditions. Earlier in the pandemic, 7% of all COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County occurred among people without underlying medical conditions; now, 14% of cumulative deaths are among people with no underlying medical conditions.

Though California’s existing pandemic surge is dire, the state has one of the lower cumulative numbers of COVID-19 deaths on a per capita basis, ranking 38th among the 50 states, probably a result of the early imposition of the stay-at-home order in the spring and summertime closures of certain high-risk businesses. New Jersey’s cumulative COVID-19 death rate is triple that of California’s, Arizona’s is double and Florida’s is 1½ times larger.


Times staff writer Thomas Suh Lauder contributed to this report.