California COVID Hospitalizations

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This chart, based on California Department of Public Health data, and updated daily, shows the total number of reported hospital patients statewide with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID, as well as the number of those patients in hospital intensive care units (ICUs).

First the bad news (as if you didn't already know):

COVID-19 cases in California are exploding — much like they are throughout the rest of the country and world — thanks largely to the highly transmissible omicron variant, which in little more than a month has invaded our lives, easily claiming its title as the dominant strain of this infernal virus.

On Jan. 1 — going into the third year of the pandemic — the state reported a seven-day average rate of 130 cases per 100,000 residents. That's a roughly 6,400% increase from the 2 average cases (per 100,000) reported during the first week in June, just seven months ago. The massive jump prompted state officials on Thursday to extend California's indoor mask mandate by a month, through mid-February, as a growing number of hospitals, agencies and schools face severe staffing shortages.

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But while this increase in case counts has understandably raised alarm, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC on Sunday that people should focus more on COVID-19 hospitalization numbers, which are climbing at a much slower rate than they were during last winter’s surge, when very few people were vaccinated.

"As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases," he said, also noting that while omicron is more transmissible than previous variants, it appears to generally cause less serious illness — especially among people who are fully vaccinated.

Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at UC Irvine, echoed that position.

"Hospitalizations are where the rubber meets the road," Noymer told The Associated Press. Although not perfect, he added, "it’s a more objective measure. If I had to choose one metric, I would choose the hospitalization data."

Still, COVID hospitalizations in California are rising briskly (although not nearly as fast as the record increases in many other states): On Thursday, there were 9,279 confirmed COVID patients in hospitals across the state, a more than 180% increase from a month ago. But that's still much less than the huge spike in COVID hospitalizations throughout the state last January, which peaked at close to 21,000, leaving many hospitals stretched dangerously thin. Also unlike year at this time, ICU numbers throughout the state are increasing at a relatively moderate pace, and the COVID-related death rate has remained largely stable.