Riverside County Hospitals Feeling Pressure of Higher COVID-19 Caseloads

Taylor Martinez

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside County health officials did not update their coronavirus numbers Thursday because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but they reported nearly three dozen new hospitalizations connected to COVID-19 and 17 additional deaths the previous day.

According to the Riverside University Health System, 455 patients infected with coronavirus were hospitalized countywide as of Wednesday, up from 420 on Tuesday. That number includes 116 patients in intensive care units — up nine from the day before.

Another 972 newly confirmed coronavirus cases brings the aggregate number of infections recorded countywide since the public health documentation period began in early March to 81,943, compared to 80,971 on Tuesday.

The 17 newly reported fatalities brings the county’s coronavirus death toll to 1,434, marking the largest one-day increase in several weeks. All but one of those deaths occurred since Nov. 7; the other was on Oct. 27, RUHS spokesman Jose Arballo said.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 14,027, an increase of 756 compared to Tuesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 81,943 — according to the county Executive Office. The number of verified patient recoveries is 66,482.

At a county briefing on Tuesday focused on the surge in infections, RUHS Dr. Geoffrey Leung said hospitals throughout the region “are starting to feel the strain. But the hospitals are much better prepared this time. They are in the initial stages of surge planning.”

“I think this (surge) will be a little different,” said Leung, referring to the amount of preparation that occurred over the summer to ensure facilities have the resources on hand to address heavier caseloads.

That sentiment has been repeatedly echoed by county Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton, who recently assured the Board of Supervisors that facilities have access to sufficient personal protective equipment and have made arrangements for excess capacity if and when it’s required.

Leung said residents who have any type of critical medical need should not delay care because facilities are following protocols to separate the contagious from the non-contagious.

The county’s peak in hospitalizations occurred in mid-July, when nearly 600 coronavirus patients were under general and intensive care. RUHS officials said if current trends continue, that number will be exceeded in December.

The county has more than 1,000 general and ICU beds available, but that doesn’t include emergency capacity, in which hospital floors are converted to critical care space, adding more beds as required.

Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said the county now has a state-adjusted COVID-19 case rate of 27.2 per 100,000 residents, compared to 22 per 100,000 two weeks ago, and an overall state-calculated positivity rate of  9.9%, up from 8.9% two weeks ago.

The county’s testing level is at 300 per 100,000. The revised state threshold for large counties is 272 per 100,000.

Last month, the California Department of Public Health reclassified the county in the purple tier, the most restrictive under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy regulatory framework. For roughly a month, the county had been in the slightly less stringent red tier. Some entities that had reopened were required to close again, including gyms, restaurants, movie theaters and churches.

Last week, Newsom placed 28 counties in the purple tier, predicated on a 50% statewide upswing in coronavirus cases, which the governor said was “the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet.”

He went a step farther last Thursday, issuing a revised executive order mandating a nightly curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which began Saturday, as part of a virus mitigation strategy. However, many law enforcement agencies have declared they have no intention of enforcing it.

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