California’s official death toll for COVID-19 has surpassed 90,000, as the state grapples with a fifth wave of infections that continues to escalate but has not translated to a sharp increase in fatalities, as of yet.
The California Department of Public on Friday reported 90,117 Californians have died of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago, adding 160 newly reported deaths since its previous update Tuesday.
The mark comes as the United States surpasses 1 million virus fatalities.
Although the tallies continue to balloon past once-unthinkable milestones, California’s seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths dropped to about 11 by the week ending April 21, the most recent with complete data available.
Aside from a five-day stretch last June, the latest rolling weekly death average is California’s lowest recorded since the very early days of the pandemic in March 2020. The death rate has steadily fallen since the peak of winter’s omicron wave, CDPH figures show.
The winter 2020 surge, which began before vaccines were made widely available, killed nearly 700 Californians a day at its peak in January 2021. The death rate peaked at nearly 260 per day during this past winter’s omicron variant surge and at about 140 a day during summer’s delta wave.
COVID-19 transmission highest in Bay Area
However, coronavirus transmission numbers are rising fast, nationwide and within California, where infection rates remain highest in the Bay Area.
The statewide case rate, which dropped as low as 5.2 per 100,000 residents in March, has spiked back up to 18.5 per 100,000 as of Friday’s state health update. Positivity bottomed out at 1.2% in late March but has now jumped to 4.4%.
Both metrics increased by 26% in the past week, and are at their highest point since mid-February.
San Francisco had the highest case rate among California counties at 40 per 100,000, with its positivity fourth-highest at 9.8%, CDPH reported Friday, trailing only a trio of sparsely populated counties.
Following San Francisco in terms of case rate were San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, each at 35 per 100,000; Santa Cruz at 34; Sonoma, Alameda and Marin at 29; Humboldt at 28; and Contra Costa at 25.
Most Sacramento-area counties are above California’s average for positivity rate: Yuba County was at 7.5%, Placer County at 7.3%, Sacramento County at 6.8% and El Dorado County at 6.2%. Sutter County matched the state at 4.4%.
Those counties, however, were all recorded below the state average in per-capita case rate as of Friday. That disparity reflects a decline in local testing volume, especially compared to the Bay Area.
Hospitalizations with COVID-19 are steadily climbing, with 1,339 virus-positive patients in hospital beds as of Friday’s state data update, a 32% increase in the past two weeks and the most since late March.
The intensive care unit total has held mostly steady since mid-April, fluctuating around about 150 patients; CDPH on Friday reported 162 ICU patients with the virus.
Both numbers remain small fractions of winter’s omicron peak, when California hospitals were treating more than 15,000 coronavirus patients including about 2,600 in ICUs. Hospital trends tend to lag case trends by a couple of weeks.
Health officials continue to stress the importance of vaccination and boosters.
For the most recent week with data available, CDPH said unvaccinated Californians were about five times more likely to be infected, seven times more likely to be hospitalized and eight times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated and boosted.
About 83% of Californians ages 5 and older are at least partially vaccinated, but only 41% have had a booster dose, including only 59% of those who are fully vaccinated and in the eligible time period to get boosted, according to the latest state health data.
BA.2.12.1 growing prominent in Sacramento area
Health officials say the recent spike is largely due to a pair of highly contagious omicron subvariants, known as BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.
BA.2.12.1, which is the more transmissible of the two, currently has a larger foothold on the East Coast but is continuing to grow in prevalence nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which updates variant prevalence data weekly on Tuesdays.
Yolo County health officer Dr. Aimee Sisson told The Sacramento Bee in an email this week that BA.2.12.1 made up 35% of positive virus cases May 1 to May 7 on the UC Davis campus, and the same percentage for cases detected across the Healthy Yolo Together testing network.
That’s a higher prevalence for the rising variant than the 24% estimated by the CDC for the same week in the region including California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and island territories.
Yolo County, which has one of California’s most rigorous testing networks, has seen its positivity rate more than quadruple from 0.6% to 2.5% since early April.
Sacramento school outbreaks pouring in
Numerous schools in the Sacramento area have reported outbreaks or large spikes in virus cases in recent weeks.
At least 20 campuses in the four-county capital region reported having 15 or more active COVID-19 cases at some point this week, a review of public K-12 districts’ virus data dashboards found, including nine schools with at least 25 and six with at least 30.
Mesa Verde High School in Citrus Heights reported 46 active COVID-19 cases in students and three among employees, according to a Friday morning update from San Juan Unified. Mary Deterding Elementary in Carmichael had 43 active cases in students and three in staff members, according to the San Juan data dashboard.
Davis Senior High had 38 cases – 36 in students plus two among staff. Americano High had 32 (28 students, four staff), followed by Folsom High at 31 (24 students, seven staff) as of Wednesday and Monterey Trail High at 30 (28 students, two staff) as of Thursday, according to those schools’ respective districts. The Monterey Trail case load is its highest this academic year, according to Elk Grove Unified data.
Mesa Verde, Rio Americano, Folsom and Monterey Trail each held at least one school dance event in late April, as did several other schools ranging from 15 to 30 active cases. Monterey Trail held a spring dance April 22 and its senior ball April 30.
C.K. McClatchy High recently reported a cluster of 50 cases, of whom 21 attended junior prom April 23; McClatchy had 15 active cases, all in students, as of Friday’s update to the Sacramento City Unified dashboard.
District officials in recent statements have said tracing transmission back to prom or similar events is difficult due to overlapping social contacts among students.
But the trends prompt concern amid a slew of large end-of-school gatherings planned for the coming weeks, including graduation ceremonies.
California ended its indoor masking requirement at K-12 campuses in mid-March.
Sacramento-area numbers by county
Sacramento County’s latest case rate is 14.7 per 100,000 residents, state health officials said in Friday’s update, a 44% increase from one week earlier.
Hospitals in Sacramento County were treating 77 virus patients Thursday, state data show, up from 67 one week earlier. The intensive care unit total dropped to nine from 11.
Placer County’s latest case rate is 13.9 per 100,000 residents, a 59% increase from one week earlier.
Hospitals in Placer County were treating 35 virus patients Thursday, up from 23 one week earlier. The ICU total dropped to one from four.
Yolo County’s latest case rate is 16.8 per 100,000 residents, a 19% increase from one week earlier.
Hospitals in Yolo County were treating three virus patients Thursday, up from two the previous Thursday. The ICU total was at zero both days.
El Dorado County’s latest case rate is 10 per 100,000 residents, a 24% increase from one week earlier.
Hospitals in El Dorado County were treating six virus patients Thursday, up from two a week earlier. The ICU total increased to two from zero.
Sutter County’s latest case rate is 6.2 per 100,000 residents and Yuba County’s is 9.5 per 100,000, state health officials reported Friday. Yuba’s case rate increased by 95% in the past week while Sutter’s decreased by 4%.
The only hospital in Yuba County, which serves the Yuba-Sutter bi-county area, was treating four virus patients Thursday, the same as one week earlier. The ICU total dropped to zero from one.
The CDC classifies all six counties in the Sacramento area as being in the “low” community level for COVID-19. Sacramento and Yolo recently rejoined the high “transmission” level for COVID-19, under a separate classification system maintained by the CDC.
Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.