Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET
California has reached a new high in the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, surpassing the previous peak in late April.
As of Sunday, the latest publicly available data show that state had 3,702 hospitalized patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 1,199 were in intensive care. There were an additional 1,102 hospitalized patients with suspected COVID-19 cases.
Hospitalizations are seen as a more reliable metric for tracking the coronavirus pandemic than new case numbers, as the figure does not hinge on the availability of testing. Before Saturday set a high of 3,574, the previous record was on April 29, when 3,497 people were hospitalized in the state.
The rise in hospitalizations comes as California has entered Stage 2 of its reopening plan, allowing some businesses to resume operations, including retail, offices, personal services and child care.
The majority of new cases in the state are in Southern California and the Central Valley. Los Angeles has the most hospitalized patients — 1,515 – followed by Orange and Riverside counties.
Hospitalization numbers in California had been fairly level from mid-May to mid-June, before rising sharply on June 15.
Officials attribute at least part of the increase in cases to a decline in social distancing as people venture out into the world again.
“Once things opened up, a lot of people started ignoring some of the social distancing protocols,” said Deputy Sheriff Royjindar Singh, a spokesperson for Stanislaus County, according to the nonprofit news organization CalMatters. “We’re having more exposure, so our case numbers have almost doubled, and with that our hospital numbers have also gone up.”
The state is monitoring counties with elevated levels of transmission. In the case of Stanislaus County, the drivers of transmission include family gatherings, businesses and healthcare facilities, as well as the hospital accepting patients from other counties, and decreased use of face coverings and social distancing.
There has also been a series of outbreaks at San Quentin State Prison, as NPR member station KQED has noted. The state reports 238 active cases of COVID-19 at San Quentin, and there have been 19 inmate deaths statewide.
California has now seen 178,054 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,515 deaths.
Last week, amid the rising case numbers, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that face coverings be required in public spaces state-wide.
Public health officials warn that if residents don’t uphold social distancing and other precautions, tighter restrictions may return.
“We have met the enemy, and they are us,” said Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin, according to the Los Angeles Times, which noted that the county saw a 75% increase in hospitalizations last week over the previous two weeks.
“And many of us have to do a better job of social distancing and quarantine,” Levin said. “Some of us are doing a great job; we’re stalwarts. If we can do this — and I know we can — we can prevent the state from telling us that we must take a step back from some of the gains we’ve made in opening our activities and businesses.”