California is now the epicenter of the winter surge of COVID cases in the U.S.

Well, we’ve done it. California is officially in first place in a race that no one wants to win. As of Saturday, the state has the highest number of new COVID cases per capita in the U.S.:

Last week, the state reported the nation’s fourth highest number of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven day period, but California jumped to first place when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its case per capita tracker Saturday.

According to the CDC update from Saturday, California has reported an average of 100.5 daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, which places it comfortably ahead of second-place Tennessee, which saw an average of 89.6 daily cases per 100,000 residents over the same time period.

California’s daily case-per capita figure is actually down from the 109.3 mark it was at last week, which is likely due to reporting delays caused by the Christmas holiday.

The winter surge in California is roughly twice as bad as the one we had in the spring/summer based on the number of people hospitalized.

As of Monday, more than 19,750 patients were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus in California, including 4,228 treated in intensive care units. Both totals are now officially more than double the peak observed during the summer surge, when about 7,200 were hospitalized with 2,050 in intensive care.

ICU bed availability is still at 0% in Southern California and the Central Valley. Officials haven’t said yet that the three week lockdown will be extended but that’s certainly the case. At a press conference today, Gov. Newsom said the decision would be announced tomorrow. The framework for ending the lockdown is the same as that for entering it, i.e. ICU capacity of 15%. So at the moment the entire southern half of the state in nowhere close to that. What we don’t know is how long the lockdown will be extended.

All of this raises a question which Politico highlighted last week. Why is this happening? California has taken this virus seriously from the start. It was the first state to shut down in the spring and has had a shutdown in the most seriously affected areas for most of this month. But so far it seems those measures haven’t really worked.

The turnabout has confounded leaders and health experts. They can point to any number of reasons that contributed to California’s surge over the past several weeks. But it is hard to pinpoint one single factor — and equally hard to find a silver bullet…

In Los Angeles, officials have said all along that people were gathering too often. They blamed celebrations and postseason viewing parties when the Dodgers and Lakers won championships this fall.

Some have blamed the strict rules themselves, saying that cooped-up Californians couldn’t take it any longer and decided they need to live their lives. Others have said congregant settings remain a severe concern in a housing-constrained state, especially in low-income communities where residents live in tight quarters and must continue to work in-person to survive…

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) argued that the state’s attempt to “shut down types of human interaction without seeing if that’s effective” was creating a backlash of sorts — “driving people to higher-risk activity” like gathering indoors at home, rather than places like restaurants.

There’s some data to back up this idea that people are pushing back against the lockdowns. Cell phone data from earlier this month seemed to back up the idea that Californians in the Bay Area are just not following the rules as strictly as they did in the spring:

The data company Unacast, a firm that collects cellphone location data from millions of phones for private companies, created the “Social Distancing Scoreboard” that shows which counties in California and beyond are seeing compliance in getting people to stay home. Each county and state is graded on an A through F scale based on three criteria: change in average mobility based on distance traveled, change in nonessential visits and difference in encounter density…

…data pulled from Dec. 17 — almost two weeks after five Bay Area counties adopted the state’s stay-at-home order early — shows that only one county is receiving an “A” grade.

If I had to point to one factor that might be convincing people not to take this as seriously this time around, it would be the hypocrisy of Democratic leaders who have preached social distance and then been caught out at fancy dinners in closed rooms. Both Gov. Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were caught doing this and I think it suggests to most people that they can similarly fudge things instead of being strict about it. Hypocrisy is what has made California the epicenter of the winter surge.

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