Six of 17 Riverside County hospitals exceed ICU capacity – Press-Enterprise

Six of Riverside County’s 17 acute-care hospitals are over their licensed capacity for intensive-care beds, the Board of Supervisors were told Tuesday, July 7, during an update on the coronavirus pandemic.

While hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the county continue to hit new highs, Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton stressed that hospitals “are not overwhelmed” and still have capacity to take patients. The six hospitals are “utilizing other ICU beds according to their surge plan,” Barton told the board during its regular meeting.

Still, the situation speaks to the stress the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has placed on the county’s health care system. In the past month, confirmed cases have more than doubled — going into Tuesday, the county had 20,555 cases and 486 deaths from the virus.

County spokeswoman Brooke Federico declined to say which six hospitals are over their ICU capacity. That’s “because we look at all hospitals as one system that works together during disaster and emergencies …,” she said via a text message.

As of Tuesday, 495 COVID-19 patients were in county hospitals — 130 of those in the ICU. Both are new records that come on top of other record highs set on consecutive days for most of the past two weeks.

By comparison, just 217 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 — 63 in the ICU — on June 8.

Ninety-four percent of the county’s 385 licensed ICU beds were in use Sunday, July 5, with about a third of those beds taken by COVID-19 patients.

As of Sunday, 68.1% of all the county’s licensed hospital beds were in use, with COVID-19 patients accounting for 13.9% of all hospital patients, up from 8.8% on June 22, according to a report on the county public health website.

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Ninety-seven percent of the county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are county residents. Ten are state prison inmates and four patients are from Imperial County.

“We are in a surge situation,” Barton said. “There is a tendency to look at capacity and (say) ‘Well, we don’t need to surge until we’re at the 100% mark for ICU or the 100% for licensed bed capacity.’”

“That is not the case. There are particular hospitals that are surging as we speak right now. And so there is definitely a reason to be concerned …” cases are rising “for a number of reasons” and there’s reason to expect another surge following gatherings for the Fourth of July weekend, Barton said.

“We did have a very vigorous and robust (coronavirus) planning effort around hospital surge,” Barton said. “The hospitals are all implementing their surge plans. This is not the same thing as being overwhelmed. They implement their surge plan as part of the preparation process.”

He added “I want to be clear in that — at this point, our hospitals are not overwhelmed. They still have the capacity.”

The county “continues to be able to secure” personal protective equipment for health care workers, Barton said, adding that the county has 1 million N-95 masks with another 1 million coming and 650,000 medical gowns that are on the way to go with 2 million surgical masks.

Hospitals are bringing in more staff to handle the surge and one hospital made a “resource request” of the state, Barton said. Federico declined to say which hospital sought state assistance.

“Since the board meeting, we’ve learned the state has approved the staffing request to support a local hospital,” she said.

In an encouraging sign, COVID-19 testing is on the rise, said Kim Saruwatari, public health director. But the county’s positivity rate — the rate at which COVID-19 tests come back positive — is 15.9%, almost double the state threshold of 8%, Saruwatari said.

The number of hospitalizations is a concern, county Public Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser told supervisors.

“Remember in the beginning, our watch word on flattening the curve was always about protecting our health system, and our health system is now substantially impacted by the number of infections that we have seen recently,” Kaiser said.

“Our curve is no longer flat and if you look at our numbers, you will see that curve is bending up at the end, which shows that we are not at that flat line that we hoped we would be at this point in the pandemic.”

Kaiser added: “We need to do better. We expect that there may be further state action coming down the pike if we do not, and it’s incumbent on all of us to do the things that we know works” including social distancing, covering one’s face while in public and not mixing with people outside one’s household.

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