Riverside County sees rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU patients

Health care workers conduct testing for COVID-19 at the drive-thru testing site at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore managed and operated by Riverside University Health System Public Health Department. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Despite assurances from Bruce Barton, director of Riverside County Emergency Management, who told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Nov. 17, that the current rise in COVID-19 caseloads has not overwhelmed area hospitals, the county saw a sharp rise in hospitalizations over the course of previous week that could begin to test his statement.

“The good news is, there has been a lot of surge planning,” Barton said. “This is familiar territory for the hospitals. They have processes and procedures in place. If there is a need for medical care, know that our hospitals are still safe. Don’t delay seeking medical care for any reason.”

Since the previous Friday, 89 residents were newly hospitalized and 34 were added to intensive care units. As of Friday, there were 375 residents in the hospital, 99 of those in the ICU.

From Monday to Friday of last week, 26 county residents died from the virus. In total, 1,400 residents have died from the virus since the county began recording data in March.

Also, since the previous Friday, the Riverside County Department of Public Health reported 4,262 new cases of COVID-19 within the county, the biggest reported numbers coming Tuesday (876) and Wednesday (912). Toward the end of the week, however, those numbers dropped significantly without explanation. Thursday reports were 373 new cases and Friday was “We are surpassing our previous statewide surge (in July),” Kim Saruwatari, director of county department of Public Health, said. “It’s consistent with what’s happening in the nation.”

Kim Saruwatari, director of public health with Riverside County, addresses the county Board of Supervisors during the Tuesday, Nov. 17, meeting. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Saruwatari said the county now has a state-adjusted new case rate of 22.4 per 100,000 residents and an overall state-calculated positivity rate of 8.9%, up from 6.7%.

On Monday, Nov. 16, Gov. Gavin Newsom placed 28 counties in the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s color-coded “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

The move was predicated on a 50% statewide upswing in coronavirus cases, which the governor said is “the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet.”

The new mandate requires residents in those counties to wear face coverings whenever they are outside their homes, unless they are alone in a car traveling with members of their household, working alone, outdoors while maintaining social distancing of 6 feet, and eating and drinking as long as they are social distancing.

Newsom went a step further Thursday, Nov. 19, issuing a soft overnight curfew prohibiting “nonessential” activities and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. that began Saturday, Nov. 21.

The “limited stay at home order” applies to all counties in the “purple” tier which includes Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. The order will remain in force until 5 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 21.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” Newsom said in a statement. “We are sounding the alarm. It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before, and we must do it again.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said California is starting to experience the wave of cases that have affected other parts of the nation.

Ghaly said the order is not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside to walk their dog at 11 p.m. if that is their normal routine. He said the idea is to cut off activities and gatherings of people that can promote virus spread.

At the start of November, the state saw a 51.3% increase in a one-week period, Newsom said. He called it an “increase simply without precedent in California’s pandemic history.”

But many were left questioning how the curfew and mandate that masks be worn will be enforced.

On Thursday, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco indicated that his deputies would not be enforcing the state mandates in a statement released on Facebook.

“To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines,” Bianco said.

However, he did encourage “responsible behavior and compliance with the governor’s orders.

“It is very important that all of us do everything we can to protect ourselves from contracting or spreading this virus,” Bianco said. “The only way to ensure you do not contract the virus is to stay at home and avoid contact with others. For those going out into public, it is very important to protect yourself from contracting and/or spreading the virus by wearing a mask and social distancing.”

The total number of cases, deaths and recoveries by southwest Riverside County city and community:

iConfirmed Cases: 1,497
Deaths: 19
Recovered: 1,248

Confirmed Cases: 1,745
Deaths: 27
Recovered: 1,407

Confirmed Cases: 811
Deaths: 15
Recovered: 666

Lake Elsinore
Confirmed Cases: 1,639
Deaths: 22
Recovered: 1,368

Canyon Lake
Confirmed Cases: 165
Deaths: 2
Recovered: 133

Confirmed Cases: 2,085
Deaths: 43
Recovered: 1,677

Confirmed Cases: 2,262
Deaths: 73
Recovered: 1,841

San Jacinto
Confirmed Cases: 1,469
Deaths: 29
Recovered: 1,241

Confirmed Cases: 23
Deaths: 0
Recovered: 16

East Hemet
Confirmed Cases: 455
Deaths: 8
Recovered: 388

French Valley
Confirmed Cases: 449
Deaths: 2
Recovered: 379

Lakeland Village
Confirmed Cases: 256
Deaths: 2
Recovered: 226

Valle Vista
Confirmed Cases: 299
Deaths: 5
Recovered: 249

Confirmed Cases: 28
Deaths: 0
Recovered: 23

The COVID-19 data recorded by Riverside County can be located at http://www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

City News Service contributed to this report.