Coronavirus cases in California surpass 500,000 in troubling milestone

By Alex Wigglesworth

LOS ANGELES _ The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in California surpassed 500,000 on Friday, a troubling milestone that caps more than a month of surging outbreaks across the state.

COVID-19 cases have been spiking since late May as California reopened the economy and people got back to old routines. Deaths and hospitalizations have also risen, prompting officials to roll back some reopening measures in hopes of slowing the spread.

Once considered a coronavirus success story, California _ the nation’s most populous state _ now leads the United States in the number of confirmed cases. More than 9,100 people in California have died. But that is still far below the death toll in New York, which has reported more than 32,000 fatalities.

Officials announced Friday that a teenager in the Central Valley had died of causes related to COVID-19, becoming the first juvenile death from the disease in California.

Officials said the teen had underlying health conditions but declined to provide additional information about age or county of residence, citing patient privacy concerns.

“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of this young person whose death is a tragic and powerful reminder of how serious COVID-19 can be,” Dr. Sonia Angell, the state public health officer, said in a news release.

The teen died earlier this week at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, the hospital said in a statement.

“The death of this patient reaffirms that children … are not immune from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

No other COVID-19-related death of a person under 18 has been confirmed by the state since the pandemic began. In March, Los Angeles County public health officials announced that a 17-year-old was believed to have died of causes related to the coronavirus but later said more investigation was needed.

The news comes as the Central Valley has emerged as a hot spot for new cases in California, accounting for all of the five counties with the highest number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times’ statewide coronavirus tracker.

Kern County topped the list, reporting 1,283.3 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, compared with 132 cases per 100,000 residents roughly a month ago. The county recorded 924 new cases Friday and one death, bringing its total to 19,335 cases and 140 deaths.

Local officials attribute the rapid rise in part to an increase in testing. Some testing sites saw a sustained fourfold increase over the past several weeks, Michelle Corson, public relations officer for Kern County Public Health, said in an email. That caused some labs to report supply shortages, which in turn delayed the turnaround time for test results, she said.

“This surge in testing and the delayed results have recently resulted in a large number of lab results currently being received at Public Health,” Corson said.

Still, a relatively high percentage of the tests performed in Kern County are coming back positive _ an average of 27.5% each day over the past two weeks, compared with a statewide average of 7.2%, according to the state department of public health. That indicates an increase in community transmission of the virus.

Kern County is followed by Colusa County, with 768.7 cases per 100,000 residents; Merced, with 651.1; Kings, with 599.6; and Tulare, also with 599.6. State guidelines say counties should aim for no more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period.

State officials had already identified the agricultural Central Valley region as an area of concern, saying the spread of the virus there underscores the inequities of the pandemic in California. The virus has infected Black and Latino communities and poorer regions at much higher rates than more affluent and white ones.

Black and Latino communities tend to have higher concentrations of essential workers who can’t stay home for financial reasons and are more likely to live and work in close quarters. Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable, because they tend to have fewer workplace protections when it comes to ensuring their safety or the ability to speak out about their conditions, experts say.

Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would send “strike teams” to Kern, Merced, Kings, Tulare and four other counties in the San Joaquin Valley while asking the California Legislature to approve $52 million to improve testing, tracing and isolation protocols in those areas.

By comparison to the high infection rates in the Central Valley, Los Angeles County reported 379.5 cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, and Orange County recorded 248.8.

L.A. County added 2,488 cases Friday and 63 deaths, bringing its total to 188,524 cases and 4,622 deaths. Officials noted that the number of fatalities marked an increase, comparing it with an average of 38 deaths a day the previous week.

“As we are seeing increases these past few days in the numbers of people dying from COVID-19, the reality of the devastation cannot be ignored,” Barbara Ferrer, the county health director, said in a statement.

The department of public health said in a news release that deaths “are a lagging indicator” that reflect exposures from weeks earlier.

Orange County reported 418 new coronavirus cases and 14 deaths Friday, its second-highest daily death toll since the pandemic began. Five of the deaths were among people who lived in skilled nursing facilities, and four were among residents of assisted living facilities, officials said.

The county previously reported a one-day high of 15 deaths on June 24 and again July 28.

Orange County now accounts for the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, having recorded a total of 36,196 cases and 618 deaths.

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(Staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Melody Gutierrez and Anita Chabria contributed to this report.)

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(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):CORONAVIRUS-CALIF

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