Californians hospitalized with COVID-19 at lowest level in 6 months

VENTURA, CA - OCTOBER 07: Lunctime crowd in downtown Ventura on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Data released by the California Department of Public Health on Tuesday confirmed that Ventura County has moved into the less restrictive red tier. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Patrons visit downtown Ventura at lunchtime on Wednesday. Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have dropped to their lowest levels in months. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

While the spread of the coronavirus accelerates in much of the nation, California is enjoying a moment of relief, as COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have dropped to the lowest levels in months.

The average number of deaths logged daily in the state is 57, the lowest since May, according to a rolling seven-day average calculated by The Times. In addition, fewer patients are in the hospital with COVID-19 — 2,209 as of Saturday — than there have been since April 2.

The state’s positivity rate, a measure of tests for the virus that come back positive, is 2.6%, an all-time low, according to state data.

These figures represent a major improvement following a massive spike earlier this year. During the summer months, the average number of deaths recorded each day reached 140, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 topped 7,000, and the state positivity rate crossed 7%.

Despite these hopeful signs, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Monday that the rate at which hospitalizations and deaths are declining has slowed, while case numbers have stopped falling and appear to have reached a plateau. Additionally, some of the figures released Monday may be artificially low because of a lag in reporting over the weekend.

“These are just areas of caution, a sober reminder of how stubborn this disease is and how prevalent and widespread this disease still remains here in California,” Newsom said during a news briefing.

He also raised alarms about the upcoming flu season, which could create added challenges in battling the coronavirus, as well as the arrival of colder weather that may force people to spend more time indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread. On Friday, the state released guidelines for socializing that prohibit gatherings among more than three households.

“We are entering into the holidays, but also we’re entering into the part of the year when things cool down and people are more likely to congregate … in settings that put their physical proximity and likelihood of transmitting disease at higher risk,” Newsom said. “Don’t be misled that this disease is any less deadly. Quite the contrary — it is as deadly as it’s ever been in the context of those that are high-risk.”

The new numbers come as the state has been slowly allowing some counties to open more businesses. Most recently, Ventura, Merced and Yuba counties were allowed to loosen restrictions on businesses, giving restaurants, movie theaters and gyms the ability to open indoors in limited capacity.

Newsom said more counties will be allowed to take similar steps on Tuesday, when the state announces which counties meet the criteria for entering the next phase of reopening. Though some counties continue to struggle to meet the required thresholds, California in general is “moving in the right direction,” he said.

He added that the state is considering allowing tattoo parlors to open in counties that remain in the most restrictive, or purple, tier for reopening and will soon release updated guidance. State officials previously made a similar exception for nail salons and barbershops.

Times staff writer Iris Lee contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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