With a record number of COVID-19 patients in Riverside County hospitals and ICU bed space tightening statewide, the entirety of Southern California was on the verge Friday of falling under a state-mandated “regional stay-at-home order.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans for the order on Thursday, saying it will be imposed in areas where ICU bed availability drops below 15%. The order will force the closure of some businesses, while again barring gatherings of people from multiple households.
It was unclear when the order might be imposed, but Newsom said the Southern California region will likely meet the threshold for the order within a matter of days. The Southern California region as defined by the state includes Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Riverside County reported 901 additional coronavirus cases Thursday and 13 more deaths. The new cases confirmed Thursday increased the county’s cumulative total since the start of the pandemic in early March to 86,797. The county’s death toll rose to 1,457.
The number of people hospitalized rose to another pandemic-high level — 649 — up from 628 on Wednesday. There were 124 people in ICU beds, a drop of two from Wednesday, according to the Riverside University Health System.
Passing the 600 mark in suspected or confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations earlier this week exceeded the county’s previous “surge” recorded in the latter half of July.
The county Emergency Management Department has not reported any medical facility at or over capacity. However, the CEO of Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley told City News Service Wednesday that bed space could become an issue if the current trend continues, despite extensive preparations for a second-wave surge. Staffing shortages are also a growing concern at the hospital, which is the largest treatment facility in the western county region.
The number of known active virus cases countywide was 17,366 as of Thursday, an increase of 648 compared to Wednesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 86,797 — according to the county Executive Office. The number of verified patient recoveries is 67,974. That figure has previously been under-reported due to health officials not being able to confirm the status of patients in follow-up interviews.
During a pre-Thanksgiving briefing, RUHS Dr. Geoffrey Leung said hospitals throughout the region “are starting to feel the strain,” but added they’re prepared for higher caseloads.
“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 greater patient counts. He 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 has more than 1,200 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.
The state-adjusted case rate for the county is 21.2 per 100,000 residents, down from 27.2 per 100,000 last week, and an overall state-calculated positivity rate of 7.7%, down from 9.9% previously.
The county’s testing level is at 300 per 100,000. The revised state threshold for large counties is 272 per 100,000.
In October, the California Department of Public Health reclassified the county in the purple tier, the most restrictive under 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 month, Newsom placed 28 counties in the purple tier, predicated on a 50% statewide upswing in coronavirus cases, which he said was “the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet.”
A revised executive order mandating a nightly curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., began Nov. 21 in counties in the purple tier, as part of the virus mitigation strategy. The order was supposed to end on Dec. 21, but that is no longer a certainty. Many law enforcement chiefs, including Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, have declined to enforce it, citing civil rights concerns.
If the regional stay-at-home order announced by Newsom Thursday is triggered, it will be in place for three weeks and will bar gatherings of people from different households. Under the order, the following businesses/recreational facilities will be required to close:
— indoor and outdoor playgrounds;
— indoor recreational facilities;
— hair salons and barbershops;
— personal care services;
— museums, zoos, and aquariums;
— movie theaters;
— bars, breweries and distilleries;
— family entertainment centers;
— cardrooms and satellite wagering;
— limited services;
— live audience sports; and
— amusement parks.
Schools with waivers will be allowed to remain open, along with “critical infrastructure” and retail stores, which will be limited to 20% of capacity. Restaurants will be restricted to takeout and delivery service only. Hotels would be allowed to open “for critical infrastructure support only,” while churches would be restricted to outdoor only services. Entertainment production — including professional sports — would be allowed to continue without live audiences.
The governor’s announcement was met with derision from some Republican lawmakers
“Governor Newsom clearly doesn’t understand that Californians are tired of being locked in their homes,” Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said. “He has ignored the calls from parents with children falling behind socially and academically while his own children attend in-person private school. He is ignoring the cries from small business owners struggling to keep their dreams alive, desperately trying to avoid the over 19,000 businesses that have permanently closed.”
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