Hospitals throughout Riverside County are generally equipped to handle any potential surge in coronavirus cases, an official told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, as the number of infections continued to climb, with an additional 662 known active cases and 17 deaths countywide.
“Several hospitals have implemented surge plans,” Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton told the board. “And each hospital has committed to capacity that’s 30 to 35% beyond their licensed capacity.”
Barton and other public health officials addressed the recent rapid growth in documented COVID-19 cases, saying the numbers were adding to burdens on the 17 hospitals within the county, but none were out of beds for virus patients and others in need of medical care.
Newly released county Department of Public Health data showed the total number of known active infections stands at 9,189, compared to 8,527 on Monday. The number of individuals who have died from complications tied to the virus is now 457, compared to 440 confirmed deaths reported Monday.
According to Health Director Kim Saruwatari, the county’s positivity rate for COVID-19 screening is running close to 12%, while the state’s preferred benchmark is 8%. She said the infection rate translates to 202 per 100,000 residents.
Saruwatari told the board that the “doubling rate” — when the number of COVID-19 cases increases 100% over a given period — is at 27 days. The metric is considered a key indicator of moderation or intensification of viral spread. It is in the severe category when the doubling rate is seven days.
According to Barton, the hospital bed usage rate countywide has been between 61% and 68% in recent days, while the intensive care unit bed usage has been between 95% and 99%. But Barton reiterated that most hospitals have the ability to quickly add bed space beyond their licensed capacities. He said during the 2017 flu pandemic that hit the county and other parts of the state and country, some local hospitals were operating in excess of their licensed capacities by 30%.
The EMD director said only about one quarter of the ICU beds countywide were currently needed for COVID-19 patients. The rest were being utilized by stroke, lung and other patients.
On Monday, county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser ordered that all bars in the county close their doors based on a recommendation — not a mandate — from the California Department of Public Health concerning potentially higher COVID-19 exposure risks. Bars were permitted to reopen on June 12 after being closed for nearly three months after the pandemic began in March.
Kaiser did not offer the board specific data confirming that area bars were a source of increased viral transmission, saying only “they are difficult locations to control COVID-19.”
“After they opened on June 12, cases started to climb,” he said.
Kaiser also said the recent demonstrations against racism and for law enforcement reform in Riverside County and elsewhere were likely hotbeds for viral contact. He warned that stern measures would be imposed to prevent bars from conducting business.
California Department of Public Health guidance released over the weekend states that “public health professionals within California and throughout the nation have identified bars as the highest risk sector of non-essential businesses currently open.”
According to the county health order, restaurants and breweries that offer dine-in services may remain in operation and continue to serve alcoholic beverages, but those must be part of the overall transaction, with meals.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Sunday mandating bar closures in seven counties, including Imperial County to the south.
Barton told the board that transfers of coronavirus patients from Imperial County — where there are only two hospitals — to Riverside County, including of Mexican nationals, has been an ongoing process involving other jurisdictions as well. Even Sacramento County has received patients.
However, only five individuals from Imperial County are hospitalized in Riverside County, according to Barton. He said the total patient count from Imperial County is slightly more than 100.
The governor last week ordered all California residents to wear face coverings in most settings outside their homes to help slow the spread of the virus. The statewide mandate requires residents to wear masks in “high-risk situations,” which cover virtually all scenarios.
Riverside County had previously rescinded its mask mandate, and the county was advancing into stage 3 of the governor’s four-stage public health de-regulation plan. But with COVID-19 cases spiking, and the renewed restrictions announced, that process may now be on hold.
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