John's Hopkins University data showed Wednesday that California now has about 1,200 more cases than New York. If California were a country, the state would have the fifth largest number of coronavirus cases in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Russia.
However, New York's 32,218 deaths are by far the highest total in the country and nine times more than California's tally, and its rate of confirmed infections of about 2,100 per 100,000 people is twice California's rate.
WATCH: How CA, NY currently compare with COVID-19 cases
California is by far the most populous U.S. state, at nearly 40 million people, while New York has about 19.5 million.
"We're doing all we can to make sure that we control the rate of spread, despite crossing 400,000 cases in California," state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday. "In the end, I really expect and hope California is going to be the state that adapted the most, learned the most and prepared the best."
It's a significant number, but the state says it doesn't give the full picture.
"I don't, myself, over read into the significance of that number," Dr. Ghaly said. "We're the largest state in the nation."
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Population is indeed a key factor.
By looking at cases per capita, you see that despite surging cases in California, New York still has double the rate of cases as the Golden State.
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The biggest difference right now is the positivity rate.
According to data from John Hopkins University, New York's positivity rate average over the past seven days is 1.2% -- vastly lower than California's 7.2%.
But look at California stacked up against other hot spot states. Texas has a 7-day positivity rate average of 15.3%, Florida is 18.9% and Arizona is 23.4%.
Whether California trends upward or downward is still to be determined.
"The California story with COVID has not yet been fully written," Dr. Ghaly said. "We're really at the beginning."
U.S. government data published Tuesday found that reported and confirmed coronavirus cases vastly underestimate the true number of infections, echoing results from a smaller study last month. The United States also has had consistent testing failures that experts say contribute to an undercount of the actual virus rate.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study says true COVID-19 rates were more than 10 times higher than reported cases in most U.S. regions from late March to early May. It is based on COVID-19 antibody tests performed on routine blood samples in 16,000 people in 10 U.S. regions.
KGO-TV and the Associated Press contributed to this report.