In summary

Which California counties have the highest rates of coronavirus hospitalization? CalMatters is following confirmed and suspected cases. Some are a surprise.

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CalMatters is tracking — and updating daily — California hospitalizations, by county, of people who have been infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19.

About 8,000 patients with COVID were hospitalized in California as of early January. That’s about 15% of all the people hospitalized in the state. And it’s slightly more than half of the patients who were hospitalized with COVID a year ago, before vaccines became widely available. The number of COVID patients in intensive care is 72% lower than a year ago.

One blindspot: The state doesn’t track how many of those hospitalizations are “incidental,” meaning that people were hospitalized for other conditions but tested positive for the virus.

Still, as the more contagious Omicron variant spreads across the state and infection rates surge, health experts are carefully watching the current uptick in COVID-positive people admitted to hospitals and intensive care units.

As of Jan. 3, the counties with the highest hospitalization rates were Placer, Imperial and San Bernardino — each exceeded a rate of 30 hospitalized patients per 100,000 people. In San Bernardino, the most populous of these four counties, 707 people were hospitalized; of those, 136 were in the ICU. 

As immunity wanes for those who were vaccinated more than six months ago, health officials are urging people to seek a booster shot to reduce the chances of a hospital admission. In San Bernardino, for example, 62% of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, but only 16% had received a booster. Across the state, about 26% of eligible Californians have been boosted.

CalMatters investigative and data-driven reporting is supported by the Inasmuch Foundation, previously known as the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

More on the coronavirus in California:

Coronavirus detectives: Here’s how counties try to track everyone exposed

California needs thousands of contact tracers. But counties and cities are overwhelmed and understaffed. “Woefully inadequate,” said one public health director.

California’s response to coronavirus, explained

Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state appears to be flattening the curve. We unravel the response to the coronavirus outbreak and look at what lies ahead.

Timeline: California reacts to coronavirus

This timeline tracks how California state and local governments tackled the evolving COVID-19 crisis since the first case was detected.

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John Osborn D'Agostino

John Osborn D’Agostino is an award-winning data journalist, web developer and game designer. Previously, he's worked with The Hechinger Report, EdSource, the East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and the North...

Lo Bénichou is a visual journalist at CalMatters. Prior to joining the team, they worked at Mapbox and at a number of media organizations like WIRED, Youth Radio, KQED, NPR. At Mapbox, they supported...