Riverside County health officials are trying to regroup Thursday following reports Wednesday that 3,948 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed and more than three dozen additional virus-related deaths had been made public, as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to shatter records.
The aggregate number of coronavirus infections recorded since the public health documentation period began in early March is 124,613, compared with 120,665 on Tuesday, according to the Riverside University Health System.
With the addition of 38 newly confirmed virus-related fatalities, the county’s death total rose to 1,666 on Wednesday, a day after the county reported 42 deaths — a record. Wednesday’s figure is the second highest since the pandemic began.
The county only reports fatalities, for any cause, after death certificates have been submitted and recorded. Deaths reported Wednesday span the period from Nov. 24 to Dec. 13, according to RUHS spokesman Jose Arballo.
Coronavirus-positive hospitalizations countywide increased by 28 to 1,000 on Wednesday. That number includes 212 intensive care unit patients, an increase of 17. Both figures are records.
In comparison, there were 310 hospitalizations a month ago.
On Tuesday, Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton told the Board of Supervisors that about 40% of all hospitalizations countywide are tied to COVID-19. ICU beds are the greatest concern now, he said, with the county’s general and acute care facilities are at maximum occupancy for licensed ICU beds.
Barton said hospitals are resorting to “surge capacity” plans to re-purpose and expand critical care space wherever possible. He did not say local medical facilities are at the point of having to transfer patients to other facilities outside the county because of overload, which has happened continuously in neighboring Imperial County.
The number of known active virus cases in Riverside County was 51,667 as of Wednesday, an increase of 3,679 compared to Tuesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 124,613 — according to the county Executive Office.
The number of verified patient recoveries is 71,280. That figure has previously been under-reported due to health officials being unable to confirm the status of patients in follow-up interviews.
The county’s overall COVID-19 positive rate is 18.5%, compared to 14.8% a week ago. Health officials have previously noted that increases in testing lead to proportionally higher case numbers, which don’t necessarily translate to medical need, except for quarantine.
Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said Tuesday that the testing rate countywide is now 576 per 100,000 population. Two months ago, it was less than half that figure.
The 11-county Southern California region’s available ICU capacity tumbled to 0.5% on Wednesday, compared to 1.7% on Tuesday.
The regional ICU bed metric is a key indicator for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s regional stay-at-home order, which went into effect on Dec. 6. The order was triggered when ICU bed availability across Southern California fell below 15%.
The mandate is slated to remain in effect until at least Dec. 28, when regions may be moved out of lockdown if bed capacity has recovered.
Supervisor Chuck Washington said Tuesday that multiple counties, including Riverside, are requesting that the governor revise the regional definition and parcel counties into smaller sub-regions across Southern California.
He said the change could result in modification of the ICU capacity threshold, which could be more easily met.
The current stay-at-home order impacts bars, theaters, museums, hair salons, indoor recreational facilities, amusement parks and wineries — all of which are supposed to remain closed.
Restaurants are confined to takeout and delivery, with capacity limitations on retail outlets.