California has surpassed New York as the US state with the most coronavirus deaths, a grim reminder of the pandemic’s toll even as the vaccine roll-out and a sharp drop in new cases buoyed hopes of life eventually returning to normal. More than 45,000 people have died as of late Tuesday from Covid-19 in California, the most populous of the 50 states and one of the hardest hit in recent months. New York, severely stricken in the early stages of pandemic last spring, has reported 44,693 lives lost, according to a Reuters tally. “This is a heart-wrenching reminder that Covid-19 is a deadly virus, and we mourn alongside every Californian who has suffered the tragic loss of a loved one during this pandemic,” Dr Mark Ghaly, the state’s health secretary, said. California, home to some 40 million people, emerged as a main US epicentre of the pandemic during a year-end surge of infections and hospitalisations that swept much of the country, pushing many health care systems to their limits. When considered in terms of per capita deaths, California, with 113 deaths per 100,000 people, ranks 32nd in the nation in Covid-19 mortality. By comparison, New York, with 248 deaths per 100,000, ranks second only to New Jersey, which has logged about 230 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 residents. Nationwide, the daily tallies of new cases and hospitalisations from Covid-19 have been dropping steadily in recent weeks, while deaths, a lagging indicator, have plateaued. The United States as a whole has reported almost 27.2 million infections and 468,103 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Just over 79,000 US patients were hospitalised with Covid-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily number since mid-November. But in California, as in other states, the improvement obscures a march of illness, hospitalisations and deaths, which remain far higher than they were at the pandemic’s previous peak last summer. Alarm in US as UK virus variant spreads: ‘can quickly overwhelm a nation’ The number of lives lost reported daily in the state has declined over the past several weeks, but remains “remarkably” high at an average of 500 fatalities per day over the past 14 days, Governor Gavin Newsom said. “Deaths continue to be devastating,” Newsom said, speaking at the opening of a vaccination site at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara County near San Francisco. Public health experts fear that gatherings for Super Bowl celebrations on Sunday, as well as the arrival of new, highly contagious variants of the virus may lead to another surge in cases before most Americans are vaccinated. In an effort to speed up the immunisation campaign being counted on to halt the pandemic, President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced that his administration planned to increase the number of vaccine doses shipped to the states, beginning on February 15. Coronavirus: California hospitals at ‘brink of catastrophe’ as bodies pile up Part of the expanded supply will be sent to community health centres in an effort to improve vaccine access for the mostly poor and minority populations those centres serve, the White House said on Tuesday. By Tuesday, about 33 million Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine to fight the coronavirus, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. “This vaccine is the weapon that will win this war,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news briefing on Tuesday. Ten per cent of New York state residents have received the vaccine, he said.