California has become the first US state to record more than five million known COVID-19 infections.
The grim milestone, as reported on Tuesday by the California Department of Public Health, wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents poised for a surge in new infections amid holiday parties and family gatherings forced indoors by a series of winter storms.
The first case in California was confirmed on January 25, 2020. It took 292 days to get to one million infections on November 11 of that year, and 44 days from then to top two million.
California’s caseload is also ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 4.4 million and Florida hit 3.9 million as of Sunday.
California has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to COVID-19.
The state has fared far better than many other states that are dealing with a surge, with areas in the Midwest and Northeast seeing the biggest jump in cases and hospitalisations amid frigid temperatures that have kept people indoors.
The US 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 hospitalisations have been rising slowly in California, up about 12 per cent in the past week to 4401. 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.
On Tuesday, San Francisco announced it was cancelling its New Year’s Eve fireworks show because of the rising caseload.
The timeline of COVID-19 in America often comes back to California. It had some of the earliest known cases among travellers from China, where the outbreak began.
On March 19, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order, shuttering businesses and schools to try to prevent hospital overcrowding.
It is unclear how many of the newly reported cases were attributed to the omicron variant. Much about omicron remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness.