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‘Light at the end of tunnel' or a small blip? Flattening COVID-19 numbers bring hope in California

Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money and Soumya Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Despite hospitals overflowing with patients, heartbreaking numbers of deaths and COVID-19 infection rates hovering at dangerous levels, there are some signs that the daily increase in the number of coronavirus cases is beginning to flatten in California.

It may take a few more days or weeks to be assured of the trend — and the flattening could be reversed if people ease up further on mask wearing and social distancing. But a number of state and local officials are voicing cautious optimism that the unrestrained, exponential daily worsening of the pandemic has slowed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom described the flattening numbers as “light at the end of the tunnel,” adding that the coronavirus test positivity rate and the number of people in hospitals and intensive care units with COVID-19 have been declining.

“We’ve seen some encouraging signs,” Newsom said. “But now, more than ever, it’s incumbent upon us not to let our guard down, not to let our masks off and to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to maintain that discipline purposefulness to work our way through yet another surge.”

Even in hard-hit Los Angeles County, there were glimmers Friday that the crisis might no longer be worsening, at least for now. But conditions in hospitals are so dire that officials say there is little to celebrate, and there remains concern that things could worsen quickly.

“It’s hard to know what to make of a bump up one day (and) a slightly lower number another day,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “I’m hopeful that we’re plateauing. We’re plateauing at a very, very high level, unfortunately. … This is much too high a level of community spread.”


In L.A. County, the average daily number of coronavirus cases over a weekly period climbed to one of its highest numbers in the pandemic — to 15,102 for the seven-day period that ended Wednesday. But by Friday night, the county was averaging about 14,600 cases a day over a weekly period. On Friday, a Los Angeles Times tally found 14,557 cases reported in L.A. County.

California hit one of its worst average daily numbers of new coronavirus cases on Sunday — nearly 45,000 cases a day, the second-highest figure of the pandemic. But since then, the number has stopped increasing, and is floating between 41,000 and 44,000 cases a day.

The last time California recorded a record number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients was on Jan. 6, topping out at 21,936. The last record number for greatest number of COVID-19 ICU patients was on Sunday, with 4,868 in the ICU.

By Thursday, there were 20,998 people with COVID-19 in California’s hospitals, including 4,745 in the ICU.


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