California US shoppers
People shop at the Citadel Outlet mall, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Commerce, California, US. Image Credit: Reuters

Los Angeles: California surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic and officials disclosed Thursday that three more cases involving a mutant variant of the virus have been confirmed in San Diego County.

The grim developments came as an ongoing surge swamps hospitals and pushes nurses and doctors to the breaking point as they brace for another likely increase after the holidays.

“We’re exhausted and it’s the calm before the storm,” said Jahmaal Willis, a nurse and emergency room leader at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley. “It’s like we’re fighting a war, a never-ending war, and we’re running out of ammo. We have to get it together before the next fight.”

Public health officials continued to plead with residents just hours before the start of 2021 not to gather for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

In Los Angeles County, where an average of six people die every hour from COVID-19, the Department of Public Health tweeted out snippets every 10 minutes on lives that have been lost.

"The hair stylist who worked for 20 years to finally open her own shop.”

“A grandmother who loved to sing to her grandchildren.”

“The bus driver who put her daughter through college and was beaming with pride.”

The tweets, which included messages to wear a mask, physically distance, stay home and “Slow the spread. Save a life,” came on a day when the county reported a record 290 deaths. That would be a rate of one death every five minutes, though it included a backlog.

Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, has had 40% of the deaths in California, the third state to reach the 25,000 death count. New York has had nearly 38,000 deaths, and Texas has had more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Spreading rapidly

Infections are spreading rapidly. San Diego County confirmed Thursday that it had found a total of four cases of the virus variant that appears to be more contagious. A 30-year-old man tested positive for the variant on Wednesday and three more men - two in their 40s and one in his 50s - also have been confirmed to have the strain. Other cases involving the variant have been confirmed in Florida and Colorado.

At least two of the men in San Diego County hadn’t traveled outside of the country and none had “any known interaction with each other,” the county said. Officials believed many more cases will surface.

San Diego County also reported a record high number of new deaths in a single day at 62, well over the previous record of 39 reported only a week earlier.

Hospitals, particularly in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley in the middle of the state, have been overrun with virus patients and don’t have any more intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients.

In Los Angeles County, hospitals have been pushed “to the brink of catastrophe,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, health services director. “This is simply not sustainable. Not just for our hospitals, for our entire health system.”