The coronavirus
The coronavirus is pictured in this electron microscope image. Courtesy NIH

COVID-positive hospitalizations in Riverside County have dropped, reversing a brief day-to-day uptrend.

On Friday, the Riverside University Health System said 90 people are hospitalized with coronavirus countywide, seven less than Thursday, and that number includes 21 intensive care unit patients diagnosed with the virus, one less than a day ago.

The number of hospitalizations had increased slightly on Thursday.

The agency does not provide updated statistics on the weekend.

RUHS officials said Friday the aggregate number of COVID cases recorded since the public health documentation period began in March 2020 is 297,215, up 137 from Thursday.

RUHS figures show a total 4,525 deaths from virus-related complications have been recorded in the past year, including an additional six virus-related deaths were confirmed on Friday. That compares to 4,519 on Thursday.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 2,160, down 43. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 297,215 — according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are at 290,530.

Officials acknowledged during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday that the county is on a promising path to achieving “herd immunity,” when the local population collectively lowers risk of transmission due to people developing their own antibodies from exposure or from having been vaccinated.

“We are in a better place today than we were several months ago,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung said. “We do believe many people have had COVID, and they now have some natural immunity.”

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt expressed optimism that when 80% of residents are either naturally fortified or immunized, “we can start pushing the rest of the virus out.”

More than 1.3 million vaccine doses have been administered countywide since December, according to Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari. That has resulted in roughly 70% of residents 65 years and older — who are at the highest risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19 — being immunized, she said.

The county’s coronavirus positivity rate is at 2%, the same as last week, and the state-adjusted case rate is 3.6 per 100,000 people, which reflects a rolling seven-day average. Last week, it was 3.5 per 100,000.

More county businesses were able to open last week amid lighter restrictions due to the county entering the orange tier of the state’s public health regulatory system.

The county had been in the red tier of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” framework since March 16, after five months in the most restrictive purple tier.

According to the California Department of Public Health, orange criteria permit retail businesses to fully open, while 50% attendance caps are supposed to be observed in restaurants, museums, movie theaters and zoos. The guidelines call for gyms, wineries and bars to maintain 25% caps.

On Thursday, officials authorized the resumption of receptions and conferences attended by up to 150 people, on the condition that they, at minimum, be tested for coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that the target date for an end to all restrictions on businesses, gatherings and recreation throughout the state is June 15 — provided there are no signs of a backward slide.

The county’s metrics are squarely in the orange qualifier, but still just outside the parameters for yellow tier status, which represents “minimal” presence of the virus.

Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses several weeks apart, are currently available countywide. Use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been suspended following reports of six women across the country developing potentially dangerous blood clots within two weeks of being vaccinated. One of the women died.

Federal health officials Tuesday recommended a pause in the use of the J&J vaccine while they investigate. Nearly 7 million people nationwide have received the vaccine.

Leung told the Board of Supervisors that RUHS will await further federal guidance before deciding whether to lift the suspension.

The portal to make an appointment for vaccinations at county-run and other sites can be accessed via www.rivcoph.org/COVID-19-Vaccine. Anyone who needs assistance may also call the county’s 211 help line.

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