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County health official discusses high positivity rate, recent trends in cases

Riverside County Health officials are keeping a close eye on the county's high positivity-rate.

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During Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said the positivity rate in Riverside County is 20%. That's nearly three times the state's threshold of 8%.

Dr. Geoffrey Leung, the Chair of the County's Family Medicine Department, told News Channe 3's Peter Daut said there are many possible reasons for that.

"We think the rising positivity rate is related to many of the changes over the past two months, associated with gradual reopening, increased movement, and probably most importantly, increased social gatherings and informal gatherings," Leung said. "Most of the time it tends to be with those individuals that we trust the most, family members or close friends, without realizing that we're letting down our guard."

This comes as doctors continue seeing more infections among younger people across the county.

Today, Riverside County reported 890 cases. Close to half of those cases were from the 18-49 age range

Dr. Leung says health officials believe social gatherings are the reason for the recent upswing in cases among the youth.

"We have seen a rise in younger people testing positive, and again we see that as related to increase social gatherings that are not necessarily tied to restaurants, shopping centers or stores," Leung said. "Again, this is happening sort of in backyards, in homes, in informal parties, and that's driving a lot of the increase that we see."

Another factor with the county is that the doubling rate of cases continues to decrease. The doubling rate is the number of days it would take for the case total to double. The current doubling rate is 24 days.

Usually as cases increase, so does the doubling rate, however, that's not the case recently in Riverside County.

"We do think this is a yellow flag and something that we need to give immediate attention. Even with making a big change, we know that it takes a few weeks before we see cases start to fall," Leung said. "So, I think this is really an opportunity for our community to collectively think about what else can we do together so we can turn these cases so that they are declining within the next month."

The increase in cases is putting a strain on the county, and the valley's, hospitals. Just last week, all 385 ICU beds in the county were in use. 116 of beds in the ICU were being used by people with coronavirus.

On Tuesday, a federal team of active military medical personnel was called to assist Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage as staffing reached "virtually" 100%, with 80% of beds in use.

Dr. Leung says he believes the county has enough hospital capacity, but staffing has been a problem.

"We do think that overall, across the county, we still have adequate hospital capacity. All of our hospitals are prepared to expand beyond ICU normal capacity. Probably the biggest challenge that we're all facing is staffing," Leung said. "Even if you have beds, or you have space, you need to make sure you have nurses and teams that can take care of patients and especially in specialized areas like Intensive Care Units. We do see that as a rising challenge as all of the hospitals in our area are competing for the same additional pools of staffing and hospitals across the state."

Dr. Leung said he does believe that the county will see an improvement in the next month.

"So with the recent dialing back from the state, we do expect that during the next month we should start to see an improvement in cases, but what we really hope for is to piggyback off of that change," Leung said. "We want to ask the community again to do everything they can to work together, so we can bring the cases down as quickly as possible. If we can do that and show the state that we are safe, then we are much more likely to be able to have the option to send our kids back to schools in regular classrooms, to keep our businesses open, and be able to have some certainty in our lives where we are able to plan for scheduling a vacation or businesses are able to plan for the appropriate staffing and hiring in the Fall."

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