Peter Wells in New York

California’s coronavirus hospitalisations fell below 15,000 for the first time since mid-December and are projected to drop by more than half over the next month.

The number of people currently in California hospitals dropped to 14,999, according to data reported by the state health department on Tuesday. It was the first time below the 15,000 level since numbers reported on December 14.

Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, at his regular press conference on Tuesday said hospitalisations were currently at 14,221, probably reflecting more up-to-date data.

Dr Ghaly said that based on current infection trends across the state, the number of hospitalisations is projected to drop to 6,557 by March 4.

The number of intensive care unit beds available across the state rose to 1,284, according to health department data, the highest level since early January. ICU bed availability was made a crucial metric in December that determined when broad regions of California would become subject to stay at home orders. Areas such as southern California, which includes hard-hit Los Angeles, and the San Joaquin Valley, spent weeks with no availability of regular ICU beds.

By the start of March, all five regions of California are projected to have more than 30 per cent ICU bed availability, Dr Ghaly said.

An additional 12,064 new infections were reported, down from 15,358 on Monday. That was the fewest number of new cases since late November.

A further 422 fatalities were attributed to coronavirus, double the number reported on Monday and compared to the average over the past week of about 543 deaths a day.

In late January, the encouraging trends in ICU bed usage, hospitalisations and cases paved the way for Governor Gavin Newsom to remove the stay at home order for all counties. As of Tuesday, 54 of California’s 58 counties are still in the purple tier, which imposes the tightest restrictions on business activities and social gatherings.

Although statewide case trends are declining, Dr Ghaly said they still remain high, and urged extra vigilance ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl final in the National Football League and lunar new year celebrations to prevent them from turning into “spreader events”.