As California virus cases fall, more people than ever dying

Posted at 3:01 PM, Jan 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-30 18:01:36-05

LOS ANGELES (AP) — As a hospice nurse, Antonio Espinoza worked to ease people’s passage into death. Just 36 years old, it seemed unlikely he soon would be on that journey.

But when the unpredictable coronavirus hit Espinoza, he spiraled from fever to chills to labored breathing that sent him to a Southern California hospital, where he died Monday, a little more than a week after being admitted.

Espinoza is among the latest to succumb in what has become California’s deadliest surge. An average of 544 people died every day in the last week, and on Saturday the state reached the grim milestone of 40,000 deaths overall, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In barely a year since the virus was first detected in the state, 1 in 1,000 Californians have died from it.

Espinoza’s wife, Nancy, watched through a glass window in the hospital as her husband took his last breaths, then was allowed in the room to be with him. She’s now figuring out what to do next and how she’ll raise their 3-year-old son alone.

“I just had so much faith,” said Nancy Espinoza, who by cruel coincidence lives in a city named Corona. “Never in my mind would it have crossed me that it would be this serious, even though we hear about it all the time.”

The victims of COVID-19 have been young and old, though mostly older. Some were fit and healthy, many more had a medley of underlying medical conditions.

California’s death toll has climbed rapidly since the worst surge of the pandemic started in mid-October. New cases and hospitalizations surged to record highs but have declined rapidly in the last two weeks.

Deaths remain staggeringly high, however, with more than 3,800 in the last week.

It took six months for California to record its first 10,000 deaths, then four months to double to 20,000. In just five more weeks the state reached 30,000. It then took only 20 days to get to 40,000.

Now only New York has more deaths — fatalities there have topped 43,000 — but at this pace California will eclipse that too.

Cases and deaths in California have disproportionately hit people of color and poorer communities, where families live in more crowded housing and among those without health insurance. Many also work in jobs with a higher risk of exposure.

The death rate for Latinos is 20% higher than the statewide average, according to figures from the Department of Public Health. Deaths of Black people are 12% higher. Case rates are 39% higher in communities where the median income is less than $40,000.