LOS ANGELES (AP) – Just a few months ago, California was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic as US hospitals in Los Angeles drowned patients and ambulances idled outside with people struggling to breathe, waiting for the beds to open.
The death toll was staggering – so much so that mortuaries filled and refrigerated trucks were brought in to handle the overflow.
Now that cases are on the rise in other parts of the country, California has gone from worst to first with the lowest infection rate in the United States, even as it quickly reopened more businesses with a higher large number of customers and allow larger gatherings.
A rush for COVID-19 vaccinations has given way to an open invitation in many places. Where people lined up for hours and counties struggled to get doses, there now appears to be an overabundance of vaccines in many places.
“It has been an achievement for California to move from our, if you will, viral tsunami that occurred after the consecutive holiday season to where we are now,” said Dr. Robert Kim. -Farley of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health.
At the height of the California winter wave that followed the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays, the state was recording 40,000 new cases per day and well over 500 deaths per day. Those numbers have fallen to 2,300 new cases and 68 deaths per day.
The state overtook Hawaii on Thursday with the lowest average number of cases per capita in the past two weeks, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. One in 2,416 people in California tested positive last week. On the other end of the spectrum, one in 223 people in Michigan has been diagnosed with the virus.
Kim-Farley said it was like spinning a huge tanker to the current level of improvement. He credited the government and public health agencies for providing clear guidelines that businesses, schools and individuals have broadly followed, including masked warrants and social distancing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has allowed businesses and schools to reopen by county based on case levels. At different points in the pandemic it has faced stiff criticism for being too restrictive, and now some are concerned it is moving too fast.
All counties have improved enough to break out of the strictest of the four tiers, and 38 of 58 counties – representing 87% of the state’s population – are now in the second least restrictive tier. Newsom said he plans to lift most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions by June 15.
The pandemic has grown unevenly across the United States
Cases were low in California a year ago, compared to New York, where hospitals were overwhelmed last spring. When California was in the throes of a second winter peak in mid-January, Michigan cases declined to a low point in February before reaching the current highest infection rate in the United States.
Kim-Farley said California’s rise to power has raised concerns about more people wearing masks, a rule still in place he said he helped prevent a resurgence.
“Some states in the United States that have lifted masked warrants are bearing the brunt of it with increasing numbers of cases as we continue to see decreases,” he said.
California has struggled to roll out its vaccines like other states, limiting doses to health workers and the elderly who are more likely to be hospitalized or die. Doses increased as cases declined, and the high number of infections during the winter also led to a certain level of natural immunity.
Just a few weeks ago, counties were struggling to get doses. The state has limited eligibility for the valuable vaccine, and stories of cheaters leaping the line to get the vaccine abound.
The Vaccine Spotter website, which helps with scheduling appointments, showed a state map flooded with green dots on Thursday, showing available appointments. Many were available the same day and some sites allowed people to show up without an appointment.
Los Angeles County has opened sites in Palmdale and Lancaster for walk-in tours. Napa County’s largest mass vaccination clinic saw demand go from flooding to trickling just days after California last week expanded vaccine eligibility to all 16-year-olds and more. This also allows for walk-in visits.
“We definitely have the capacity,” County spokeswoman Janet Upton said. “But now what we are apparently missing is the public interest.”
California has a population of around 40 million, and just over half of the 32 million eligible for vaccines have received at least one vaccine.
A combination of worry over reports of rare complications, misinformation and conspiracy theories, and a feeling among some that the danger has diminished has led to reluctance to vaccinate.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer tried to persuade more people to put aside their concerns about the vaccine, noting that the risk of a serious side effect is the same as that of dying from the vaccine. a 200 mile road trip that most people wouldn’t hesitate to take. .
“The risk of having a serious side effect from the COVID vaccine is about one in a million,” she said. “We take these little risks every day as we go through our lives because we know what’s on the other side is worth it. Likewise, the return to normal that is on the other side vaccination is worth it. “
With the deployment of the vaccine, the morgues that lacked space returned to normal.
“It’s the difference between night and day,” said Todd Beckley, general manager of the Inglewood Cemetery Mortuary. “There was a time when we had nine deaths a day, and they were all COVID. We haven’t had a COVID death for four days. “
Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.