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In dramatic turnaround, California now has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the U.S.

Two girls wait while their father gets a COVID-19 shot.
Seven-year-old Chloe Choi, right, peeks while sister Bella, 4, turns away as their dad gets his first COVID-19 shot at a Santa Ana vaccination site on Thursday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Months after a coronavirus surge sickened hundreds of thousands of people, left thousands dead and pushed hospitals to their breaking point, California’s virus case rate is now the lowest of any state in the nation, federal figures show.

Although the distinction doesn’t lessen the heavy toll exacted by the fall-and-winter wave, it does demonstrate the tremendous strides the state has made in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic — progress that, to this point, has not been interrupted even as the state more widely reopens its economy.

For the record:

9:34 a.m. April 27, 2021An earlier version of this article reported that Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services secretary, said that until October diners should probably eat outdoors at restaurants. Ghaly said people will probably prefer dining outdoors at restaurants instead of indoors until that time.

California’s latest seven-day rate of new cases was 32.5 per 100,000 people, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over that same period, Hawaii had the second-lowest rate, at 36.8, and the nationwide rate was 114.7. California has for weeks reported one of the lowest case rates in the nation — though the top spot had remained largely out of reach.

Despite reopening gains, experts think herd immunity is a ways off, and they say several factors will keep COVID-19 a fact of life for some time.

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Over the last week, California has reported an average of 1,901 new cases per day, a 34% decrease from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

Daily case counts haven’t been this consistently low since last spring.

On Sunday, 1,730 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in California, with 403 of them in intensive care, state data show. Both those figures are among the lowest ever recorded during the pandemic.

Officials hope more vaccinations will continue to keep California case rates low.

At a panel discussion hosted by the Sacramento Press Club, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services secretary, said he expected there would be enough Californians — and Americans — vaccinated by October that the risk of contracting the virus would be dramatically lower. Until then, he said, a number of people will probably prefer dining outdoors at restaurants instead of indoors, keep their social circles small and continue to wear a mask in settings where they’re unsure of others’ vaccination status.

But in general, Ghaly said, he expects that Californians will return to doing most of the things they were doing before the pandemic by this fall, with some mitigations still in place.

Variants, however, will still be a concern. “This is a sneaky virus that will try to mutate,” Ghaly said, so officials will need to continue their efforts to detect any new variants that have the potential to break through immunity.


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