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California Coronavirus Cases Rise Despite Strict Measures

Remy Tumin and

Just two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Californians that the state’s intensive care beds might be full before Christmas.

Now, it appears that dire projection is being borne out.

How bad is the coronavirus surge in California?

In Los Angeles County, officials say, an average of two people are dying every hour. And one in every 80 people there is thought to be infected.

“Our hospitals are under siege and our models show no end in sight,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the director of health services in Los Angeles County, said Thursday.

Statewide, California reported 3 percent availability of I.C.U. beds on Thursday.

But the problem is most severe in the southern part of the state. Within the month, Dr. Ghaly said, the number of patients requiring I.C.U. care in Los Angeles County “could easily exceed” the 2,500 licensed adult beds by a thousand or more.

California continues to shatter records. More than 60,000 new virus cases were reported on Wednesday, and 398 deaths. But it is hardly alone.

More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show. A recent New York Times analysis found that one in 10 Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — lives in an area where I.C.U.’s are either completely full, or have fewer than 5 percent of beds available.

The total number of confirmed infections in the United States since the pandemic began passed 17 million on Thursday, just five days after eclipsing the 16-million mark.

In California, the authorities have ordered an extra 5,000 body bags, activated a mutual aid network for morgues and coroner’s offices and stationed 60 refrigerated storage units in counties around the state to handle remains. Health officials in Orange County said they would roll out three field hospitals.

Hospitals are particularly overwhelmed in San Joaquin Valley, where many low-wage essential workers live without good access to health care even in the best of times. The number of available I.C.U. beds there hovered at 0.7 percent on Thursday.

Even the Bay Area, which for a time managed to stave off the worst of the surge by adopting an especially conservative approach to reopening, has not been spared. I.C.U. capacity there has dropped below 15 percent, leading to a new regional stay-at-home order.

The ever-climbing numbers are all the more demoralizing for Californians because they have endured some of the most stringent pandemic restrictions in the country. But now more than ever, health officials said, they need to keep hunkering down.

”It’s going to be a wild ride probably for another four, five or six weeks,” said Dr. Nancy Gin, Kaiser Permanente’s medical director for Southern California. She urged Californians to stay home and not give in to temptation to travel as the holidays near.

The advent of vaccinations has buoyed people’s spirits, but many health care workers are exhausted to their core.

“It’s really hard to put all of it into words,” said Helen Cordova, an I.C.U. nurse who was the first person in California to receive a vaccine shot. “This is a very real disease — those images of inside of hospitals, that’s very accurate.”

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