RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside University Health System estimates indicate coronavirus cases in Riverside County will grow — possibly doubling every four to five days — and deaths stemming from viral complications could rise 125 times the current figure in the next month.
“We’re trying to change the curve and slow down the rate of infection,” RUHS Dr. Geoffrey Leung said during a news briefing at the county’s Emergency Operations Center in downtown Riverside on Thursday. “But based on forecasting and modeling … there could be a doubling of the rate of COVID-19 infection every four to five days … If we stay on the same doubling rate, (by early May) we could have over 1,000 deaths and 50,000 new cases.”
Leung said he based his estimates on local approximations and nationwide trends.
“By April 12, all hospital beds (in the county) will be used up, and if we stay on the same doubling rate, we’ll be out of ventilators in the April 22-May 5 period,” Leung said.
The one ray of hope that he referenced was a dramatic slowdown in the rate of infection in New Rochelle, New York, where a major cluster of COVID-19 infections was documented two weeks ago, but after closely monitored isolation measures were implemented, the rate dropped precipitously.
“They lengthened the doubling time by two weeks,” Leung said. “If all of you do everything you can, together we can get through this.”
The county has recorded 107 infections and eight deaths, according to RUHS. Like the rest of the nation, the local mortality rate is slightly over 1%. More than 3,000 residents have been tested for the virus, and screening measures are being broadened, according to officials.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser declined to characterize the number of COVID-19 patients who have not succumbed to complications and are no longer hospitalized as “recovered,” saying that while a person’s symptoms may subside, viral transmission can continue “for a long period of time.”
“We’re trying to make sure the earliest cases meet criteria” for classification as recovered, he said.
Kaiser acknowledged that the 10-person cap he placed on gatherings two weeks ago, effectively making many businesses and events impossible to conduct, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive last week for Californians not involved in “essential” operations to stay at home as much as possible, were wreaking havoc on the regional economy, but austerity measures were needed for viral containment.
“I care about where someone’s next paycheck will be coming from. I want to make sure people have a job to come back to,” he said. “But if we pull this back too quickly, we could be worse off in that situation. We don’t want to open too early, but also not too late.”
Jobless claims filed in the last week exceeded 3 million nationally, a record high, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We need a sense of calm and responsibility,” said Supervisor Karen Spiegel. “We all need to help in this fight. Every one of us needs to heed actions that will save lives.”
She repeated the importance of social distancing and other precautions.
The COVID-19 count countywide includes 44 in the northwest county area, 41 in the Coachella Valley, 19 in the southwest area, and two in mid-county. Another resident, who acquired the virus while traveling on a cruise ship, remains in Northern California, officials said.
Those living within 50 miles of Riverside can now screen symptoms and risk factors online and if eligible, participate in testing at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore.
Members of the California National Guard on Thursday continued setting up a temporary hospital at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio in anticipation of an expected surge of coronavirus cases.
The 125-bed “federal medical station” will be built within existing buildings and be equipped with all necessary equipment. The field hospital will help ease the burden on the local hospital system, said county spokeswoman Brooke Federico.
It is expected to take 10 days to build the facility, which will likely stay open for at least eight weeks, officials said.
Another temporary hospital will soon be set up in western Riverside County, Federico said. That site will have another 125 beds, but specific information, including the location, was not released.