Even as cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, there is at least one more grim milestone to report in California’s battle with COVID-19: There have already been more deaths recorded in August than any other month of the pandemic.
With five days of data left to be logged, the August death toll climbed to 3,328 on Wednesday — breaking a record set the previous month — after another 147 fatalities were reported around the state, according to data compiled by this news organization. That was fewer than a week ago, however, so the seven-day average fell slightly to about 123 fatalities per day over the past week.
California has averaged at least 120 deaths per day for the entirety of August, reaching as high as 145 virus fatalities per day in the state’s deadliest seven-day period of the pandemic, which ended Aug. 6 (only six of those days, Aug. 1-6, are counted toward the August total).
But deaths are beginning to trend downward, following hospitalizations and cases, both of which have been falling for about a month. That peak in deaths came at the start of August, and after a small tick upward last week, the seven-day average is near its lowest level of the month; it had fallen to 120 last Friday but rose back to 130 during the week before its most recent decline. Prior to that, the last time California averaged fewer than 120 deaths per day was the last week of July.
And it was during that week that the state had set its previous mark for the most deaths from COVID-19 recorded in a month, which came in July, when there were a total of 3,139 deaths between July 1-31, more than a thousand more than any prior month of the pandemic.
If California continues at a rate of 123 deaths per day through the end of the month, it would finish August with approximately 800 more fatalities than July.
But hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since the beginning of the month, and there have been fewer new cases in August than there were in July.
Statewide, hospitalizations hit their peak July 21, when there were 7,170 patients being treated for COVID-19. When the month started, that number had been falling for a little over a week, and it has continued to do so throughout all of August. Since the start of the month, the state has shed nearly one-third of its COVID hospitalizations, down to 4,365 on Tuesday, the fewest since June 24.
California is also on pace to keep August’s case count lower than the total in July, when there were more cases reported than the entirety of the pandemic prior to it.
Counties around the state reported 5,854 new cases Wednesday — the second consecutive day with fewer than 6,000 — to bring their total for the month to 186,396, according to data compiled by this news organization. Even with five more days of about 5,750 cases — the current seven-day average — the total would still be shy of the nearly 263,000 cases reported in July.
The Bay Area has already reported 50 more deaths this month than in July — 277 through Aug. 26 — but that still amounted to about 8% of the statewide total, significantly smaller than its 20% share of the population. There were another 19 deaths in the region Wednesday — tied for the most in a single day — including nine in Alameda County, four in Santa Clara County, three in San Francisco, two in Sonoma County and one in Contra Costa County.
As the pandemic rages on, Los Angeles County has also claimed a shrinking share of the state’s deaths from the virus. Its 10 million people make up about a quarter of California’s population, but it had accounted for nearly half of the state’s deaths up until July. Its death toll remained about flat month-to-month, but its share of the deaths around the state shrank to about 40% in July and was down to 31% thus far in August.
In the San Joaquin Valley, there have already been more fatalities from the virus in August than there were in all of July, when it tripled its previous monthly record. The 624 deaths across its eight counties since Aug. 1 — up 56% from the July total — make up about a fifth of the state’s overall August death toll, despite its 4.3 million people accounting for about a tenth of the state’s population.
In total, California’s case count is right in line with its share of the U.S. population: about 12% each of the nation’s 328 million people and 5.8 million cases of COVID-19. Its death toll, which reached 12,551 on Wednesday, was only 7% of the 180,000 fatalities nationwide, however.
California’s COVID-19 progression, by the numbers*
Aug. 1-26: 3,328 deaths | 186,396 cases
July 1-31: 3,139 deaths | 262,878 cases
June 1-30: 1,945 deaths | 123,012 cases
May 1-31: 2,088 deaths | 62,877 cases
April 1-30: 1,917 deaths | 42,306 cases
Pre-April: 214 deaths | 9,846 cases
*cases and deaths reflect date they were reported
Source: Bay Area News Group tracking of county health department databases