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Coronavirus updates: California COVID infections on sharp decline as February arrives

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 2/2/2021 Michael McGough, The Sacramento Bee

Feb. 1—California reached two milestones in the coronavirus pandemic over the weekend, one somber and the other promising.

The state on Saturday officially surpassed 40,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to a daily update from the California Department of Public Health, equating to more than one death for every 1,000 residents.

Virus death totals continue to flood in, averaging more than 520 per day over the past two weeks, as thousands remain hospitalized and in intensive care units in connection with the brutal winter surge that has started to wane.

It took less than three weeks for the state's death toll to shoot from 30,000 to 40,000.

On the more hopeful side: The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in California now exceeds the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases reported, overtaking the latter total over the weekend. As of Monday updates from CDPH, there have been over 3.52 million doses injected since shots started in mid-December, against 3.26 million confirmed infections in the past year.

The vaccination count includes both first and second doses of the two-shot regimens from Pfizer and Moderna, meaning there are not yet 3.52 million Californians fully protected against COVID-19.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 560,000 in the state have received both doses, meaning the roughly 2.9 million who remain are somewhere within their three- or four-week waiting periods for their second shot, depending on the brand.

California is entering February from a much better baseline of COVID-19 activity than it did in January, with all metrics except deaths far lower and still rapidly declining.

Test positivity rate, which health experts view as a key figure in estimating true spread of the virus, has declined from 12.6% in the two weeks leading up to Jan. 1 to 7.3% over the past two weeks.

Likewise, the state is now averaging about 20,000 new cases per day, down from about 38,000 at the start of January, according to CDPH. Monday's tally of 15,358 new cases was the state's lowest reported in a day since Nov. 30.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients in hospital beds statewide has declined from just over 20,000 on Jan. 1 to less than 14,500 as of Monday's update.

The ICU patient total for the virus entered January at about 4,500 but by Monday had dropped below 3,900.

The death rate, though it remains near its highest point ever, appears to show signs of slowing growth. COVID-19 deaths correlate strongly with hospitalizations and especially with ICU cases, but lag behind those trends by a few weeks due to the progression time of the virus.

It's likely that the rate of deaths will soon begin to decline. However, like the ICU graph, it may be a slow fall at first.

Vaccine ruled out in Placer County man's death

Placer County coroner's officials over the weekend said the vaccine has been ruled out as a contributing factor in the death of a 64-year-old man who received it hours before dying.

The Placer County Sheriff's Office and local health department had released a joint statement a week earlier, on Jan. 23, announcing the Jan. 21 death and the timing in relation to the vaccine being administered, but had offered few other details and said the cause of death was pending.

In Saturday's update, sheriff-coroner's officials made clear the vaccine wasn't to blame: "Clinical examination and lab results have determined the COVID-19 vaccine has been ruled out as a contributing factor in the individual's death."

The Jan. 23 announcement prompted backlash: Many expressed concern that releasing the information before a cause of death was determined would cause unwarranted worries about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which clinical trials have shown to be safe and highly effective. News of the Placer County man's death hours after vaccine injection made national and international headlines.

More vaccine centers opening in Sacramento, Central Valley

Some major private health care providers in the Sacramento area and across the Central Valley are opening large vaccine centers this week, including sites in Sacramento and Roseville. Some of the sites are at unadvertised locations to discourage shot-seekers from showing up without an appointment.

"This is the largest public health response many of us have seen in our professional careers," Branden Nelson, director of clinical operations for primary care for the Sutter Medical Foundation in the Sacramento region, recently told The Bee.

Sacramento County has also begun taking "vaccine interest" registrations for residents ages 65 and older.

The vaccination campaign to accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic has no modern precedent in its scale. California's earliest weeks of the rollout have been marred by a number of factors, from short supply to data reporting problems to the complexity of the state's priority system governing who should get their vaccine first.

California's vaccine rollout has improved in terms of speed and efficiency but remains in the bottom third among U.S. states for each, according to CDC data.

California through Saturday had distributed about 58% of vaccine doses distributed by the federal government. That ranks 13th-lowest among the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., but is much better than the 37% reported less than two weeks ago — which had ranked the Golden State dead last among the 51.

The CDC also reported Sunday that California had administered 8,315 doses per 100,000 residents, ranking it 12th-lowest among the states. At the high end, Alaska has given more than 16,000 shots per 100,000, while 10 other states plus D.C. have given between 10,000 and 15,000 shots per 100,000.

The federal government last week announced that allocations would be increasing this week to about 10 million doses nationwide, up about 16% from the 8.6 million distributed last week.

California is also set for a 16% boost: the CDC says the state is being allocated about 563,000 doses this week, compared to 486,000 each of the last two weeks.

Sacramento area by the numbers: Death toll tops 1,800

The six counties that make up the bulk of the 13-county Greater Sacramento region — Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties — have reported more than 138,000 combined positive cases and at least 1,806 virus deaths.

Following the statewide trend, the rate of new cases is slowing in all six of those counties while deaths, which lag a few weeks behind infections, continue to pour in.

Sacramento County has confirmed 86,471 cases since the start of the pandemic, and at least 1,262 of those residents have died of COVID-19. The county reported 1,079 cases and 23 new deaths Monday for the three-day reporting window including the weekend, for averages of about 30 cases and eight deaths per day.

By date of death occurrence, December and January have been Sacramento County's two deadliest months of the pandemic. Local health officials have confirmed 375 deaths for December and at least 207 for Jan. 1 through Jan. 28. January's total will continue to grow significantly, as it can take weeks for death confirmations to be made official.

Prior to December, the county's deadliest month of the pandemic was August at 181 virus deaths.

The hospitalized total for virus patients was at 339 as of Monday's state data update, down from 346 on Sunday and in the longer term, down from 444 two weeks earlier. The ICU total has fallen to 102 from a peak of 130. CDPH reported 67 ICU beds available in Sacramento County as of Monday, up from 48 last Friday.

Placer County health officials have confirmed a total of 18,399 infections and 199 deaths. Placer on Friday reported 132 new cases and seven fatalities, following 138 cases and no deaths reported Thursday.

State data on Monday showed 107 virus patients in Placer hospitals, down from 121 on Sunday. However, the ICU total grew from 20 to 24, and available ICU beds fell from 23 to 13.

Yolo County has reported a total of 11,602 cases and 149 deaths, most recently adding 78 cases Sunday. Yolo reported two deaths on Friday, one last Wednesday and eight deaths last Tuesday.

State data showed Yolo with only 12 virus patients Monday, the lowest total since early November. Eight are now in ICUs, with one ICU bed available.

El Dorado County has reported 8,359 positive test results and 79 deaths. The county on Friday added 36 new cases and five deaths.

El Dorado has reported a remarkable surge in virus deaths: The county has reported 15 times as many in the two months since Thanksgiving as it did during the nine months before the holiday.

At least 75 El Dorado residents have died of COVID-19 since late November, compared to four from March through mid-November.

State health officials on Monday reported 12 virus patients in El Dorado hospitals, down from 17 on Sunday, with the ICU total holding at three. Nine ICU beds now remain available, two more than on Sunday.

In Sutter County, at least 8,264 people have contracted the virus and 86 have died. Sutter on Friday reported 58 cases and one new death.

Neighboring Yuba County has reported 5,324 infections and 31 dead. The county added 40 new cases and no new deaths in Friday's update, following one death reported Thursday.

Not all patients are hospitalized in-county, but the only hospital serving the Yuba-Sutter bicounty region — Adventist-Rideout in Marysville — had 43 hospitalized virus patients as of Monday, same as on Sunday. The ICU total held at 13, while the available ICU bed count rebounded from two to four.

The Bee's Tony Bizjak and Vincent Moleski contributed to this story.

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