On Wednesday, California surpassed 50,000 known coronavirus deaths, the first state to reach that chilling milestone.
The news comes as a bleak reminder that the recent progress the state has made against the pandemic may be fragile. Most of those deaths were recorded recently, during the winter surge, which followed a period of relatively low case counts and a spreading hope that the virus could be controlled until vaccines arrived.
According to a New York Times database, California, the country’s most populous state, averaged more than 560 deaths a day at its peak in January. By contrast, for much of November, it reported fewer than 50 deaths a day on average.
It took nearly 10 months for Los Angeles County to reach 400,000 cases, but little more than a month to add another 400,000, from Nov. 30 to Jan. 2.
Though the state has reported more total deaths than any other in the nation, it is far from the hardest hit relative to the size of its population. At least 30 states have reported more total deaths per capita. New Jersey has recorded twice as many.
[Track coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in California.]
Tallying the loss of life across the state also belies the virus’s uneven impact on poorer communities of color, particularly in the Central Valley and Los Angeles.
Latinos, who are more likely than other Californians to work in essential industries and less likely to have the resources or space to isolate themselves if they get infected, have been sickened and have died at disproportionately high rates. State figures show that Latinos, who make up 39 percent of the state population, accounted for 46 percent of California’s deaths.
“We’ve created a separate and unequal hospital system and a separate and unequal funding system for low-income communities,” Dr. Elaine Batchlor, chief executive of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, recently told our colleagues.
And so far, California has failed to prevent the same inequities from plaguing the state’s vaccination effort, a process that has been criticized as chaotic and confusing.
In mid-November, as Thanksgiving neared, state officials warned that another surge could be on its way. As cases rose again, leaders begged Californians to hunker down, and not to ease up on precautions. When they reimposed restrictions that had been lifted, the move added to a pervasive sense of exhaustion — another disheartening reversal in the pandemic.
Nearly all of California’s roughly 40 million residents spent the holidays under strict orders to stay at home. Gatherings with people they did not live with were banned.
Even with those restrictions, though, the virus spread rapidly and hospitals were overwhelmed.
Scenes like those that played out in New York during the spring — when testing was scarce and deaths were probably undercounted — became commonplace in Southern California, dashing experts’ hopes that they could be avoided.
The region was a center of the pandemic in the United States, just as the first vaccines were beginning to be administered.
Doctors and nurses treated patients in hospital lobbies. Relatives watched remotely as loved ones took their last breaths. Health care workers who held the screens for them are still grappling with the lingering effects of sustained trauma.
“It’s really hard to put all of it into words,” said Helen Cordova, an intensive care unit nurse at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, the first person in California to get a vaccine shot outside of a clinical trial.
On top of everything, researchers have confirmed that a coronavirus variant now spreading in California is more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.
Nevertheless, there is hope.
California is now reporting half as many new cases a day, on average, as it did two weeks ago. Some counties have been allowed to lift restrictions. Local officials say more reopenings are on the way. State lawmakers approved a $7.6 billion relief package this week.
And as Gov. Gavin Newsom — whose political fortunes hinge on getting children back into schools and shots into the arms of a far-flung, diverse populace — has pointed out, California has administered many more vaccine doses than any other state.
Here’s what else to know today
Recall attempts are not unusual in California: Petitions for removal from office have been filed against every governor in the last 61 years. But the pressure on Mr. Newsom is building, as efforts to recall him move closer to bringing the issue to the ballot box. [The New York Times]
If you missed it, here’s what to know about the recall election process. [The New York Times]
Berkeley became the latest city to take on single-family zoning, voting unanimously to end the practice by the end of next year. “We cannot ignore that from the outset, zoning’s sole purpose was to segregate by race, to the detriment of people of color,” Councilman Ben Bartlett said. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Disney’s California Adventure theme park will reopen starting March 18 at limited capacity, with tickets starting at $75. [The Los Angeles Times]
A federal judge on Tuesday cleared the way for California to enforce its net neutrality law, denying a request by telecommunications providers to delay state rules meant to ensure equal access to internet content. [The New York Times]
The Los Angeles City Council voted on Wednesday to support so-called hero pay for grocery store workers, requiring stores to boost wages by $5 an hour for the next 120 days. Several other municipalities in the state have passed similar measures. [The Los Angeles Times]
Starved of cash by the pandemic, cities like West Covina are using their own property (in this case, their streets) as collateral of sorts to raise money to pay for their workers’ pensions. [The New York Times]
Silas Farley, a former New York City Ballet dancer, will succeed Jenifer Ringer on July 1 as the head of the dance program at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. [The New York Times]
Fry’s Electronics, the well-known big-box retailer with Silicon Valley origins that nurtured a generation of do-it-yourself tech fans, announced on Wednesday that it was shutting down operations, effective immediately, as our colleagues in Business reported. The retailer, which has 31 stores across nine states and has been in business for nearly 36 years, blamed “changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The chain was famous for its elaborate store themes: The Fry’s in Woodland Hills was a page out of Alice in Wonderland, for instance, decorated with figurines as tall as 15 feet. Priya grew up near the Burbank location, which had a theme inspired by 1950s science fiction movies. They’d often browse the aisles for spare computer parts, like motherboards, before the rise of Amazon, Newegg and other online retailers.
The retailer was particularly beloved by Silicon Valley executives, who found the stores to be a nostalgic haven and source of creative inspiration. “It was a piece of heaven for me,” one fan wrote on Twitter, amid an outpouring of nostalgia on social media.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.