SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Just a few months ago, California was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in US hospitals in Los Angeles.
The death toll was staggering – so many that morgues were filled and refrigerator trucks pulled in to deal with the overflow.
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Now that cases are on the rise in other parts of the country, California has moved from worst to first point with the lowest infection rate in the US, although it has quickly moved to reopening more businesses with larger numbers of customers and hosting larger gatherings.
A fight for COVID-19 vaccinations has given way to an open invitation in many places. Where people queued for hours and the districts battled over cans, there now seems to be a barrage of gunfire in many places.
“Moving from our, if you will, viral tsunami that happened after the consecutive holiday season to our current location has been a success story for California,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Public Health School.
At the height of California’s winter flood after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, the state recorded 40,000 new cases daily and well over 500 deaths per day. Those numbers have dropped to 2,300 new cases and 68 deaths per day.
The state outperformed Hawaii on Thursday with the lowest average number of cases per capita in the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. One in 2,416 people in California tested positive in the past week. At the other end of the spectrum, one in 223 people in Michigan has been diagnosed with the virus.
Kim-Farley said it was like turning a giant tanker over to reach today’s level of improvement. He attested to clear guidelines from government and public health officials that businesses, schools, and individuals largely followed, including mask mandates and social distancing.
Governor Gavin Newsom has allowed businesses and schools to reopen by counties as the case may be. At various points in the pandemic it has been heavily criticized for being too restrictive and now some fear it is moving too fast.
All counties have improved enough to get out of the strictest of four levels, and 38 of the 58 counties – which make up 87% of the state’s population – are now in the second-lowest restrictive level.
As of Thursday, all Bay Area counties will be in the Orange tier, with the exception of Solano, which will remain in the Red tier. An expected move from Marin County to the least restrictive yellow tier has been delayed due to an increase in cases.
Newsom said it plans to lift most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions by June 15.
The pandemic has increased unevenly in the United States
A year ago, there were few cases in California compared to New York, where hospitals were overwhelmed last spring. When California was hit by a second winter surge in mid-January, cases in Michigan hit rock bottom in February before rising to the highest current infection rate in the United States
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Kim-Farley said California’s boom has scared more people into wearing masks, a rule that is still in place. He said he helped prevent a resurgence. “Some states in the United States that have lifted mask mandates are suffering the consequences of these increasing numbers of cases, while we continue to see a decline,” he said.
California, like other states, struggled to adopt vaccines, restricting dosing to health workers and the elderly at higher risk of hospitalization or death. Doses have increased as cases tapered, and the high number of infections over the winter also resulted in some level of natural immunity.
Weeks ago, the districts had trouble getting cans. The state restricted eligibility for the precious vaccine, and there have been countless stories of scammers jumping the line to get a shot.
On the Vaccine Spotter website, where appointments can be booked, a card appeared on Thursday with a status in green dots showing the available appointments. Many were available the same day, and some websites allowed people to show up without an appointment.
Los Angeles County opened sightseeing locations in Palmdale and Lancaster. At Napa County’s largest mass vaccination clinic, demand plummeted from a flood to a trickle just days after California expanded immunization eligibility to anyone aged 16 and over last week. It also allows walk-ins.
“We definitely have the capacity, will, and volunteers and commitment from everyone doing this work in Napa County,” said county spokeswoman Janet Upton. “But now we seem to lack public interest.”
California has roughly 40 million residents, and just over half of the 32 million eligible for vaccines have received at least one shot.
A combination of vaccine reluctance based on reports of rare complications, plus misinformation and conspiracy theories and a feeling that the danger has subsided, has fueled complacency in some.
Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer tried to convince more people to put aside concerns about the vaccine, noting that the likelihood of a serious side effect was the same as death on a 200-mile road trip is that most people would not hesitate to put up with.
“The risk of a serious side effect from the COVID vaccine is around one in a million,” she said. “We take these tiny risks every day as we live our lives because we know what’s worth it on the other side. It is also worth returning to normal on the other side of the vaccination. “
With the introduction of the vaccine, funerals that had run out of space have returned to normal.
“It’s the difference between day and night,” said Todd Beckley, the general manager of Inglewood Cemetery Mortuary. “There was a time when we had nine deaths a day and they were all COVID. We haven’t had a COVID death in four days. “
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