Gov. Gavin Newsom said 86 more people who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus died in California on Tuesday, bringing the statewide COVID-19 death toll to 1,354.
During his Wednesday press briefing, Newsom said the death toll increased by 6.8% over a 24-hour period and provided an indication deaths that took place as far back as December could eventually be added to the state’s count.
Following an announcement from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department Tuesday that two individuals who posthumously tested positive for COVID-19 died at their homes in February, Newsom said he has instructed coroners around the state to “dig even deeper” and perform autopsies on individuals who may have died from the novel coronavirus as far back as December, 2019.
The February deaths in Santa Clara County appeared to be the first confirmed coronavirus fatalities in the country, occurring weeks before the first U.S. death was publicly reported on Feb. 27.
“We are very pleased with the work that was done in Santa Clara County to make public that information and know that we are doing the same across the state and in other counties as well to ultimately help guide a deeper understanding of when this pandemic really started to impact Californians directly,” Newsom said.
Santa Clara County Health Officer, Dr. Sara Cody, confirmed Wednesday the deaths that took place on February 6 and February 17 were a 57-year-old woman and 69-year-old man whose cases appeared to stem from community transmission.
Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith told this news organization on Tuesday the new positive death results were received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after being sent to the federal agency by the county Medical Examiner-Coroner.
Smith said per Medical Examiner-Coroner’s protocol, individuals who exhibit flu-like symptoms prior to death are given nasopharyngeal swabs submitted for viral testing to include a panel for COVID-19.
Newsom did not outline what the guidelines will be for autopsies in California and how many bodies the state anticipates coroners will test.
“When this occurred is important forensic information, profoundly significant in understanding the epidemiology of this disease, all of those things are brought to bear with more clarity and light,” Newsom said. “Not only because of this specific announcement, but I imagine subsequent announcements that may be made by similar efforts all across the state of California.”
During a press briefing on Wednesday morning, Cody said Santa Clara County would have acted sooner if it had known the coronavirus was spreading in the community as early as late January.
“If we had understood then that people were already dying, then yes, we probably would have acted earlier than we did,” Cody said.
The governor pointed to Santa Clara County and its public health department as leaders in understanding how the coronavirus pandemic has affected California.
“We compliment the outstanding work and leadership,” Newsom said. “Santa Clara County has been at the forefront of this from the beginning of this process.”
As the death toll topped 1,350, Newsom said Wednesday the number of hospitalizations and people who have tested positive for the coronavirus that are requiring care in ICUs declined.
With a slight decrease of 0.2% in hospitalizations, Newsom said there are 3,357 COVID-19-positive patients in hospitals including 1,219 in ICU beds. The number of patients in ICU beds dropped by 1.8% from Monday to Tuesday.
“We’re seeing slight increases, slight decreases, again, thus this framework of a line that’s beginning to straighten, to flatten and (stabilize),” Newsom said.
According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 35,396 confirmed coronavirus cases in California to date and more than 465,000 individuals have been tested.
Newsom said Wednesday the state’s goal is to test between 60,000-80,000 people per day beginning in May.