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California battles skyrocketing coronavirus cases

California battles skyrocketing coronavirus cases
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California is grappling with a record number of coronavirus cases, putting a strain on hospital resources even as the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine provides hope for a breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

The nation’s most populous state is pulling out all the stops to try to get its outbreak under control amid a surge heading into the colder months, which experts warn will be one of the worst phases of the pandemic as more people gather indoors.

California recorded 53,326 new cases on Friday, surpassing the previous single-day record set Wednesday by about 1,000. There’s been a nearly 19 percent rise in cases over the last seven days, and about 1.8 million Californians have been infected with the virus.

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The four deadliest days of the pandemic in California all occurred in the last week as well, according to a database kept by the Los Angeles Times, with more than 22,100 COVID-19 deaths reported in the state.

No state has had as many cases as California, and just Texas and New York have had more fatalities. 

The outbreak has stretched California’s services to the limit, with about 17,000 people hospitalized with the virus and more than 3,500 people in intensive care units (ICU) across the state. ICU availability dropped to zero percent in Southern California this week.

"This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic, and we're in the middle of it right now," California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomLeaders of Newsom recall effort say they have enough signatures White House says Shalanda Young could serve as acting OMB director California to set aside 40 percent of vaccine doses for areas most at risk MORE (D) said this week. "We're near the end, but we're in the middle of the most acute peak as it relates to what we refer to as the third wave."

The Golden State this week was forced to activate its “mass fatality” program, which serves as an “essential resource to the impacted local Sheriff-Coroner, Coroner, or Medical Examiner should mutual aid be requested.” California has also ordered 5,000 body bags and 60 refrigerated units and is opening temporary field hospitals to help deal with overflow patients.

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Some areas of California are “just right at that cusp of getting overrun,” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Texas patrons threaten to call ICE on Mexican restaurant for keeping mask mandate Gottlieb: 'Probable' that high schoolers will get coronavirus vaccines this year MORE, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, warned this week.

Public health officials have pressed Californians and people across the country to keep following guidelines such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing even as pandemic fatigue continues to roil the nation and many Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas with others.

Officials have also voiced concerns that the promise of a vaccine may produce more lax behavior. A vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech started being administered across the country this week, while the Food and Drug Administration on Friday also gave emergency approval to a second vaccine from Moderna.

The spike in cases in California and elsewhere is coinciding with an ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over a new stimulus package. Democratic and Republican leaders have struggled to cobble together a package, though they are expected to finally reach an agreement within the next few days.