Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued their upward rise in Riverside County Tuesday, as area hospitals reported the virus has stretched their capacity and caused severe shortages of beds and staff.

The Riverside University Health System reported another 2,211 COVID-19 infections, lifting the cumulative county case number from throughout the pandemic to 176,688. Health officials also reported another 73 deaths due to the virus, although some of those fatalities could date back weeks due to delays in reporting.

Since the pandemic began, the county has reported 1,943 virus-related deaths.

Coronavirus hospitalizations countywide jumped to 1,367 on Tuesday, an 81-patient increase from Monday, according to RUHS. That includes 287 intensive care unit patients, five more than Monday. According to Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton, the hospital figures are confirmed daily.

The number of COVID-19 patients at county hospitals has increased by 138% in the last month, rising from 573 on Nov. 29. The intensive care numbers are up by 147% in the same period.

The number of verified patient recoveries countywide is at 113,953, up from 110,736 recoveries listed on Monday.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 60,792, down by 1,079 compared to Monday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 176,688 — according to the county Executive Office.

According to Barton, about 40% of all hospitalizations countywide are tied to COVID-19. ICU beds are the greatest concern, with the county’s general and acute care facilities at maximum occupancy.

Barton said hospitals are resorting to “surge capacity” plans to expand critical care space wherever possible.

At Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley, some non-emergency pediatric cases are being referred to Loma Linda University Medical Center to reduce the county hospital’s load.

At Riverside Community Hospital — where officials said 214 COVID-19 patients are admitted — a former cafeteria was converted last weekend as alternative care space to handle the surge of patients who are waiting in the emergency department for a hospital bed.

“What I see is devastation,” the hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Annette Greenwood told City News Service. “I’ve been a nurse for 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The county’s overall COVID-19 testing-positivity rate is 22.6%, compared to 18.5% two weeks ago.

The 11-county Southern California region’s available ICU capacity is officially at 0%. The regional ICU bed metric is a key benchmark 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 was formally extended Tuesday, but no specific timeframe was given for the order to be lifted. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the region can emerge from the order when its projected ICU capacity tops 15% — a figure unlikely to be met for weeks to come.

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.

Hospital officials pleaded with the public to take coronavirus precautions seriously, especially as another holiday approaches.

“I just can’t reach out enough to say please wear a mask, please social distance. Don’t get together at New Year’s Eve, please don’t,” said Greenwood.

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