Unwelcome milestone: California hits million COVID-19 cases

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FILE - In this July 31, 2020, file photo, Romelia Navarro, 64, weeps while hugging her husband, Antonio, in his final moments in a COVID-19 unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif. In November 2020, California is reaching an unwelcome coronavirus record: its 1 millionth positive test. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

LOS ANGELES – A month ago, Antonio Gomez III was a healthy 46-year-old struggling like so many others to balance work and parenting during the coronavirus pandemic.

This week, he’s struggling to breathe after a three-week bout with the deadly virus.

Gomez let down his guard to see his parents and contracted one of the more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California. For months, the virus has hammered the economy, disproportionately affected the poor and upended daily life — and now the state and the rest of the country are trying to curb another surge of infections.

California on Thursday became the second state — behind Texas — to eclipse a million known cases, while the U.S. has surpassed 10 million infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s most populous state — with 40 million residents — ranks 39th nationwide in the number of cases per 100,000 residents.

The timeline of COVID-19 in America often comes back to California. It had some of the earliest known cases among travelers from China, where the outbreak began. The Feb. 6 death of a San Jose woman is the first known coronavirus fatality in the U.S. That same month, California recorded the first U.S. case not related to travel and the first infection spread within the community.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order, shuttering businesses and schools to try to prevent hospital overcrowding.

The spread slowed, but California faced the same challenges as other states: providing enough protective gear for health workers, doing enough testing and providing timely results, tracking infections and those potentially exposed.

As the state tried to balance public health and the economy, cases rose as it relaxed business restrictions. Eleven counties this week had to reimpose limits.