California becomes second state in US to surpass 1m Covid-19 cases

State has seen nearly 7,000 cases in the past 24 hours amid a surge that was predicted to come with the flu season

Healthcare workers collect a test sample at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in Los Angeles.
Healthcare workers collect a test sample at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in Los Angeles. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Healthcare workers collect a test sample at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in Los Angeles. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
in San Francisco

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 21.59 EST

California has crossed a bleak threshold in its battle against the coronavirus, as the state became the second in the US to surpass 1m cases of Covid-19 on Thursday.

Following a period in which new infections dipped and sectors began to cautiously reopen, the state of nearly 40 million residents has recently joined the rest of the country in a surge that was predicted to come with the flu season.

With 1,000,631 total cases as of Thursday, California has seen nearly 7,000 cases in the past 24 hours, with a seven-day test positivity rate of 5%. Hospitalizations have increased by nearly a third in the past 14 days, with intensive care hospitalizations going up by 29.6%. The state is averaging 44 deaths a day; in total more than 18,000 people have died from the virus.

Just one month ago, the state was reporting daily numbers below 3,000 and a positivity rate of 2.5%.

“Obviously, it’s sobering, these numbers,” said Gavin Newsom, California’s governor.

Texas passed 1m confirmed cases of the coronavirus earlier this week.

Contact tracers and county public health officials have zeroed in on private household gatherings as a major source of spread, said Dr Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services.

Officials have also pointed to essential workplaces, restaurants and the cold weather – which has prompted people to move their socializing indoors – as factors behind the surge. “We’re seeing people take down their guard, take down their masks, and begin to mix outside their households,” Newsom said. He added that the latest uptick could be related to Halloween.

The rise in cases forced the state this week to restrict the reopening of 11 counties, including San Diego and Sacramento. Previously in these counties, some non-essential businesses could be open with modifications, but now most will be closed again.

Counties including Santa Cruz and Contra Costa are also reintroducing some restrictions, though not as severe as those in San Diego and Sacramento.

It was the first week since health officials introduced their blueprint for reopening, which involves tiered levels of restrictions through which counties can move, that no county graduated into a less restrictive level, said Dr Erica Pan, acting public health officer.

“We anticipate that if things stay the way they are, between this week and next week, over half of California counties will have moved into a more restrictive tier,” Ghaly said.

Local jurisdictions began taking steps to combat the increase in cases as well. While San Francisco remains in the least restrictive tier of reopening, London Breed, the city’s mayor, announced this week that the city would temporarily roll back reopening indoor dining, pause reopening indoor instruction at high schools that have not already opened, and reduce the capacity of fitness centers and movie theaters. San Francisco has experienced a 250% increase in Covid cases since 2 October, she said.

“I know this is not the news our residents and businesses wanted to hear, but as I’ve said all along, we’re making decisions based on the data we’re seeing on the ground,” Breed said in a statement. “Right now, our public health officials are telling us we need to take these steps to get the virus under control and save lives – so that’s what we’re doing.”

The US recorded more than a million new cases of the virus in the first 10 days of November. With 143,231 new cases and 2,005 deaths on Wednesday, marking the ninth consecutive day of cases topping 100,000 and a new record for daily cases, November is on track to be the worst month of the pandemic so far in the country.

The US has had more than 10.5m reported cases since the pandemic began. In total, 241,910 people have died.