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What Riverside County will need to do to avert ‘unsustainable’ overwhelming of hospitals

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On Monday the state reported that Riverside County experienced its first dip in ICU patients in 8 days of upward trends. On Sunday there were 235 people and on Monday, 229 people. Despite the slight dip, hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with patients. According to the state, there are 1,239 COVID-related hospitalizations in Riverside County.

Last Friday marked a milestone in the county. More than 14,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived. Vaccines started being administered that day to healthcare workers directly working with COVID patients.

"The vaccine is going to be great, it’s a great tool that we have but it’s a tool that’s still in progress and it hasn’t been fully implemented and it won’t be for some period of time still," said Jose Arballo, Riverside County Department of Public Health spokesperson.

Healthcare experts said the step will help pave the way to fight off COVID-19, but it is not an immediate solution.

"If the current trend continues, we expect to have between 1800-2200 COVID hospitalizations by this time next month. Although hospitals have adapted to this challenge, we are worried that a continued rise in cases at this rate will be unsustainable," said Riverside University Health System doctor, Dr. Geoffrey Leung during a Friday news conference.

The expectation is that things will get worse before they get better. Experts added that if the state's stay-at-home order made an impact, they would begin to see the results this week. The order took effect on December 6, and county officials were hopeful that could mean a drop in cases.

"However, we are concerned that all of our COVID metrics and leading indicators continue to increase. This includes our case rate, which has increased tenfold since early November," said Dr. Leung.

County hospitals are currently dealing with a surge brought on by Thanksgiving gatherings.

The back-to-back holidays, including Christmas and New Years Eve, pose an even greater risk with 5.7 million people expected to travel in Southern California for the year end holidays, according to AAA.

Appointments at county testing sites have also experienced recent delays ahead of the holidays. County officials expressed concern that could be an indication many people are planning to gather despite the warning from public health officials.

"We’re having the same push we had right before Thanksgiving. People want to get tested, presumably in many cases because they want to take the test before they meet up with their family. That’s exactly what we don’t want them to do," said Arballo.

Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage has had its fair share of challenges through the pandemic.

"If we do behave that way, we are going to get into numbers that are indeed, not sustainable," said Eisenhower Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alan Williamson.

The hospital has been reworking its surge plan to ensure it is capable of receiving additional patients if there happens to be another surge. In the meantime, the current surge has already left an impact.

"The ICU is also full, we’ve had to displace some of our other surgical cases and so on, consolidate those all into one unit so that we can have 3 of our 4 intensive care units dedicated almost exclusively to COVID right now," said Dr. Williamson.

As the hospital prepares, that also means having to postpone more elective surgeries.

"This is a very significant surge, much bigger than what we saw after Memorial Day," Dr. Williamson said.

With more holidays in sight, health experts are urging people to limit gatherings in an effort to avoid one surge on top of the other.

"It's very difficult for the staff to manage, so what can we do to try to avoid that? The answer is obvious: if we can truncate the Thanksgiving surge and just allow that to come back down, then we would all be able to meet those needs for our community," said Dr. Williamson.

"Stay at home, practice social distancing, and wash your hands," said Arballo.

Coronavirus / News Headlines / Top Stories

Shelby Nelson

Shelby Nelson is a News Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. She joined our team in September 2019 after living in San Francisco for 6 years. Learn more about Shelby here.

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