LOS ANGELES – Think about the run-time of your favorite song, or about how long it takes to brush your teeth before bed.
Over the last two days, that’s roughly the time it’s taken another person to die from COVID-19 in California.
The disease has killed more Californians on each of the last two days than any other day throughout the course of the entire pandemic – a back-to-back battering that has propelled the state’s total death toll past 25,000.
In the last three days, more than 1,100 people statewide have died from COVID-19, including a record-high 442 Tuesday and the next-highest total, 424, on Wednesday.
Those numbers represent roughly the equivalent of one person dying from the disease every 3 1/2 minutes.
The situation has gotten so bleak that some mortuary and funeral home operators are saying they have to turn away bereaved families because they don’t have the capacity to handle more bodies.
In Los Angeles County, which officially surpassed 10,000 total coronavirus-related fatalities Wednesday, officials said they’re now seeing roughly 150 people dying from COVID-19 each day – a figure that’s almost as high as the average number of people dying daily from every other cause.
That equates to one Angeleno dying every 10 minutes.
Starting at midnight Thursday, county officials began posting new messages on Twitter at that interval, describing someone who may have just lost his or her battle with COVID-19: The principal who stayed late to watch every school play, an ER nurse who pulled double shifts for months on end, the local activist who labored to uplift a community, a cherished coworker or friend, a beloved family member.
Each message was punctuated with the same plea: “Slow the spread. Save a life.”
“Most heartbreaking is that, if we had done a better job reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
The nation’s most populous county has also set consecutive records for daily COVID-19 deaths this week, with 262 reported Wednesday and 242 on Tuesday.
Though the recent numbers were partly influenced by a reporting backlog from the Christmas holiday weekend, officials say they represent a sobering reality: that some are now paying the ultimate price for decisions they or those they came into contact with made weeks ago.
“We have a chance to make it right,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “So let’s start today by recognizing our shared humanity and responsibility to take care of each other.”
While there’s been some cautious optimism that the worst wave of the pandemic is beginning to level off in some areas – though, notably, not in Southern California – the recent record-high death tolls demonstrate the continued devastation wrought by the coronavirus and, officials warn, point to even darker days ahead if the state is slammed by another surge stemming from widespread gatherings and travel for the winter holidays.
California also must now contend with the presence of a new variant of the coronavirus that some scientists believe is even more contagious. The strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, has been detected in a 30-year-old man in San Diego County, and it’s unclear how widely it may have circulated.
“The next number of weeks will be challenging, in particular as it relates to this surge on top of a surge – I would argue on top, again, of a likely additional surge coming from Christmas and, hopefully, one that’s a little more modest from New Year’s,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Everyone, he added, needs to be mindful of the dangers posed by the pandemic.
“Please don’t just assume or think or believe naively that this is something that won’t impact you because you’re younger, it’s ‘just about older people,’ “ he said Wednesday.
The disease doesn’t affect only those it infects.
With COVID-19 continuing to send record numbers of Californians to the hospital – there were 20,612 coronavirus-positive patients statewide as of Tuesday, with 4,389 of them in intensive care – officials warn that healthcare systems are being stretched to their limits statewide, a dire situation that potentially imperils the quality of care for everyone.
Officials have recently expressed concern that people suffering from strokes, heart attacks and seizures are languishing outside hospitals – as emergency rooms are so crowded that some ambulances are being forced to wait hours to offload their patients.
Even those afflicted by more sudden emergencies, like getting in a car accident, may be unable to get the medical attention they need if conditions continue to deteriorate.
“Many hospitals have reached a point of crisis and are having to make very difficult decisions about patient care,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, L.A. County’s director of health services. “Staff are constrained, and patient demand continues to increase.”
Officials have earnestly urged residents to stay home and avoid the temptation to celebrate New Year’s with those outside their household.