California now reporting 525 virus deaths every day


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – More Californians than ever are dying from coronavirus – a 525 knee every day – and with the number expected to continue to climb, state officials said on Friday they were sending more refrigerated trailers to the overwhelmed county coroner’s offices act like makeshift morgues.

There are now 98 trailers to help county coroners store bodies “with respect and dignity,” Emergency Services Bureau Director Mark Ghilarducci said. In Los Angeles County, where on average one person dies every 6 minutes, temporary storage facilities have been set up in the parking lot adjacent to the coroner’s office.

The Office of Emergency Services uses state hospitalization data to predict the number of people likely to die in the coming weeks. The state is analyzing several models in an attempt to predict hospitalizations and deaths. The “overall” projection which combines all the models estimates that 10,000 more people will die in the next three weeks.

It could be at least two weeks before the state knows the full extent of the damage caused by the virus during the holiday season, when many people ignored calls to stay home and not to reunite with friends and extended family. On average, about 12% of all people who test positive end up being hospitalized, so if there is an outbreak of new cases, it will overwhelm hospitals further. And more people will eventually die.

Ghilarducci said the state had activated its “mass death management plan” to try to avoid large safeguards at morgues.

“It is important to know that there is a plan, that it is underway and that it is active today,” Ghilarducci said. “We will continue to work in this direction with each of our 58 counties to ensure that all of these people are taken care of in the most respectful manner.”

This grim prediction contrasted with an optimistic press conference held Friday by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Gavin Newsom at Dodger Stadium, which is being converted into a vaccination center capable of delivering 12,000 doses per day.

California has received more than 3.5 million doses of the vaccine and has administered just over a million doses. Newsom said the state was on track to surpass its target of distributing around 1.5 million doses by Friday.

Newsom has tried to highlight some encouraging trends: Hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and positivity rates – the percentage of people tested who have the virus – have all declined in the past seven days.

The numbers were enough for the Newsom administration earlier this week to lift the stay-at-home order for Sacramento’s 13-county area, which includes the state capital and Lake Tahoe, a popular winter tourist destination.

The move allows hair and nail salons and other businesses to reopen and restaurants to resume alfresco dining and offers a slight increase in customer numbers at retail outlets.

“We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, not just the light provided by vaccines,” Newsom said.

California – the country’s most populous state with nearly 40 million people – has averaged more than 41,000 new cases of coronavirus each day over the past two weeks, eclipsing previous outbreaks. While California has the second highest death toll in the country, the state ranks 39th for the number of deaths per capita at 81.8.

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