California now has second highest number of coronavirus cases in U.S., surpassing New Jersey

California now has second highest number of coronavirus cases in U.S., surpassing New Jersey


California surpassed New Jersey as the state with the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country with a total of 169,552 infections as of Friday afternoon, according to a Chronicle analysis.

That total eclipses New Jersey, which has reported 168,496 cases. California reported record daily numbers of new coronavirus cases this week while shelter-in-place restrictions lift. The infection rate, per capita, is still significantly lower in California, where nearly 40 million people live versus 9 million in New Jersey. New York has the most cases of any state with 391,330, according to the New York Times.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Monday. “As we mix, as we reopen, inevitably, we’re going to see an increase in the total number of cases. It’s our responsibility to address that and to make sure we’re prepared for spikes.”

Experts say case increases are likely due to the state easing shelter-in-place restrictions and people gathering together, sometimes without social distancing, which was evident during recent holidays such as Memorial Day. All but five counties — including four in the Bay Area — have received approval to move into Stage 3 of reopening, where services like indoor dining, fitness centers, and hotels can begin to reopen and gatherings can involve more people.

California recorded its first day with 3,000 new cases on May 30. Over the past eight days, the average has been more than 3,400 with a single-day high of 4,289 on Wednesday. Hospitalizations statewide reached 3,439 on Wednesday, a record high since April 28.

Most of the state’s cases are still in southern California. Los Angeles reported the highest number of cases, although the county doesn’t have the highest prevalence. Imperial County recorded the most cases per capita, followed by Kings County, according to New York Times data.

The nine counties in the Bay Area also reported a record daily high with 358 cases on Wednesday. The number of new cases in the state and Bay Area dropped Thursday.

More people in the Bay Area are getting tested, but more tests are also coming back positive, said Dr. Stephen Parodi, Associate Executive Director of the Permanente Medical Group.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California noticed a significant pickup in the percentage of positive tests conducted at its clinics in Oakland and the Central Valley in the past three weeks, he said.

New Bay Area cases haven’t directly led to more hospitalizations, which have remained relatively stable. Calls about COVID-19 to Kaiser’s call center tripled from a month and a half ago, Parodi said. At the start of the pandemic, such calls often led to hospital visits a couple of weeks later. Kaiser hasn’t seen the same correlation recently, except for a slight uptick in Oakland, he said.

One possible explanation is that the statewide average age of people with the virus is dropping, California Department of Public Health data shows. Parodi said about half of the people currently testing positive through Kaiser are between the ages of 18 and 50.

Parodi pointed out that, since the start of the pandemic, the state clamped down on outbreaks in nursing homes, initially hotspots for virus transmission. Now, cases are spreading more in the community as people start to gather again.

Younger people are less likely to have severe outcomes and require hospitalization for COVID-19 — but can spread the virus to others more at risk.

“Even if those people are at less risk of landing in the hospital, I’m really worried that they’re in households where some of these more vulnerable people live,” Parodi said.

Experts say there’s little evidence that mass protests against police brutality and racial inequality, sparked by the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day, led to a spike in cases as was initially feared. Dr. Bob Wachter, head of UCSF’s Department of Medicine, said cases haven’t emerged in large U.S. cities with more protests, but instead in locations that reopened the economy faster.

More cases as people mingle are to be expected, he said, but must be watched closely.

“It’s inconceivable that you could reopen and not see some uptick in cases,” Wachter said. “We’re making a calculated decision and generally thoughtful decision about how large an increase in cases we are willing to tolerate for the advantages of improving the economy and improving people’s lives.”

Public health departments are tracking data including hospital capacity, number of tests, ability to trace cases, and how much personal protective equipment is available to understand whether the state is opening at the right pace.

“The goal is you don’t want to increase the cases so much that you overwhelm the health care system and can’t track cases and do contact tracing. That presents you an upper boundary of how much opening is prudent,” Wachter said. “Opening up is a dynamic process.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Matt Kawahara and Mike Massa contributed to this report.

Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter:@mallorymoench



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