CALIFORNIA — Over the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, California has often led the nation. It had some of the earliest known cases back in 2020 and it recorded the first omicron variant cases. This week, California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus cases, according to the state's data.
The state also reported a major jump in positive test results — from 5.4 percent to 9.7 percent in just one day, according to the California Department of Public Health's dashboard, which was delayed by the holiday weekend.
While the idea of surpassing 5 million infections may sound alarming, it isn't all that surprising for the nation's most populous state of 40 million residents.
The state has also been careening toward that milestone since the omicron variant was first reported in the state on Dec. 1, when the state was reporting 4,810,164 cases. Then, the state's testing positivity rate was just 3.4 percent.
The emergence of the new variant — which Anthony Fauci called "extraordinarily contagious" — combined with a myriad of holiday parties and family gatherings, also pushed the state's infection rate up.
California’s caseload is also ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 4.4 million and Florida topped 3.9 million as of Sunday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists California as a place with “high” transmission of the virus, along with nearly everywhere else in the country. But in the last week California averaged 16.4 new cases per 100,000 people, less than a third of the national rate.
Meanwhile, coronavirus related hospitalizations have been rising slowly in California, up about 12 percent in the last 7 days to 4,401. That’s less than half as many as during the late summer peak and one-fifth of a year ago, before vaccines were widely available.
It remains unclear how many of the newly reported cases were attributed to the omicron or delta coronavirus variants. Much about omicron remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. So far, scientists have said it could cause a more mild bout of illness among adults.
In response to changing evidence about the severity of illness omicron causes and when people are most infections, top U.S. health officials dramatically altered isolation restrictions that have been in place for two years on Monday.
Those who catch the coronavirus will now only need to isolate for five days instead of 10, with similarly shortened quarantine times for those who are exposed.
Federal officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
California will align with the new guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Monday afternoon.
While omicron seems to pose less of a danger to younger adults who are vaccinated or boosted, the variant is highly contagious.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told The Associated Press on Monday that the U.S. is about to see a huge influx in omicron cases.
"Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic," she said. "We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."
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