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California Hits Record COVID-19 Deaths As New Variant Found

Shoppers wearing masks at the Fashion Valley Mall food court in this file photo from Nov. 28, 2020.
Alexander Nguyen
Shoppers wearing masks at the Fashion Valley Mall food court in this file photo from Nov. 28, 2020.

UPDATE: 3:26 p.m., Dec. 30, 2020

Los Angeles County surpassed 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus Wednesday as California also hit a record high number of fatalities. The governor also announced the first detected case of the new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus in a San Diego man.

County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer called the 10,056 deaths there a “terrible milestone." She noted that more than 7,400 people remain hospitalized with coronavirus in the county, with 20% of them in intensive care units.


The milestone came the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an “unprecedented” high of 432 reported deaths, a figure that was likely elevated due to a lag in reporting over the holidays. He said during a briefing with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, that he had just learned that the new strain of the virus had been detected, the second reported case in the nation.

“I don’t think Californians should think that this is odd; it’s to be expected,” Fauci said of the virus variant.

San Diego County officials said the infected man was a 30-year-old with no history of travel.

“The patient became symptomatic on the 27th. He was tested yesterday and the new strain was detected early (Wednesday)," said Eric McDonald, the county's medical director for epidemiology. Another person in the man's household was being tested, he said.

A graphic shows a diagram of the new COVID-19 variant virus, Dec. 30, 2020.
Francois Duckett / AP
A graphic shows a diagram of the new COVID-19 variant virus, Dec. 30, 2020.

The Colorado and California cases have triggered a host of questions about how the variant circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States. One San Diego supervisor said the detection means it is already circulating there.


The case in California comes as the state is consumed by a growing pandemic crisis, including what Newsom called an “unprecedented" 432 deaths reported Wednesday.

Hospitals are increasingly stretched by soaring infections that are expected to grow in the coming weeks. Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have what is considered no intensive care capacity to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus. And state health officials remain worried about gatherings tied to New Year’s Eve.

But hope is on the horizon as vaccines roll out.

The statewide transmission rate has also fallen to the point where one infected person is in turn infecting just one other individual, a development that Newsom called encouraging while warning that rates in central and Southern California remain much higher and the trend could reverse from holiday gatherings.

Despite the still-soaring infections, Newsom also released a plan for schools to resume in-person teaching next spring, starting with the youngest students and those who have struggled most with distance learning. He also promised $2 billion in state aid for coronavirus testing, increased classroom ventilation and personal protective equipment.

Many schools have already reopened and there have not been virus outbreaks “even in places with high rates of transmission," California School Board President Linda Darling-Hammond said.

Officials said schools in districts that have not already reopened with stringent plans in place would not reopen for in-person instruction until the overall transmission rate declines in California.