COVID-19: Riverside County cases increase by 33%, but hospitalizations start to fall

·4 min read

While Riverside County experienced a slight relief in COVID-19 cases earlier this week, the weekly total increased once again. But hospitalizations seem to be loosening after weeks of steady adds.

The county added 9,657 new COVID-19 cases between Monday and Friday. That's up 33% from two weeks ago — the last time a full week's worth of cases were reported — when there were 7,243 reported infections between Jan. 10 and 14.

It's a setback from the start of the week when the county reported 3,747 cases between Jan. 21 and Monday, down 14% from the total reported between Jan. 7 and 10.

Cases in local school districts also fluctuated. Palm Springs Unified School District reported 497 student and 75 staff cases on Friday. Those numbers on Monday were 492 and 139, respectively.

At Desert Sands Unified School District, there are active cases of COVID-19 among 610 students and 129 staff members. Since Monday, student cases increased by 14 and staff cases decreased by 14.

The Coachella Valley Unified School District reported active cases within the past 10 days among 293 students and 78 staff members. Student cases increased by 174, and staff cases increased by 46 since Monday.

But there are still signs of improvements. On Friday, the county's case rate was 210.2 per 100,000, and the positivity rate was 32.0%. Both numbers are down from Monday's 259.1 per 100,000 and 34.3%.

The spread of COVID-19 is also likely decreasing, according to predictive models from the California Department of Public Health. The COVID-19 transmission rate in Riverside County is estimated to be 0.64, meaning every infected person in the county on average is transmitting the virus to less than one person. Two weeks ago, the rate was two people.

Even as the nation begins to recover from the omicron surge, a new omicron subvariant has been reported in at least four states, including California. It's not clear yet whether BA.2 is pushing out the original omicron variant, now referred to as BA.1, said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

It's also too early to know whether vaccinated and other existing medicines will provide ample protection against BA.2, said Jeremy Luban, a professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at UMass Medical School.

The newer variant, like the original omicron, has lots of mutations, including about 20 in the region targeted by most vaccines. BA.2 also has mutations not found in BA.1, which could limit the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies, he said.

County spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said Friday that he has not received any reports of the subvariant being confirmed in Riverside County. On the county's COVID-19 dashboard, the omicron variant (the dashboard states that includes "all BA.1 and BA.2 sublineages") made up 100% of specimens sequenced between Jan. 2 and 8.

Patient numbers got some relief in Riverside County this week. After reaching 1,074 on Wednesday, totals fell to 1,004 on Friday. That includes 171 in intensive care, which remained relatively stable this week. Two weeks ago, the county added 105 patients between Jan. 10 and 14.

There were 89 deaths reported this week, bringing the total to 5,835 since the beginning of the pandemic. That's twice as many deaths reported two weeks ago, but a public health official said deaths are anticipated to increase over the next month.

Distribution of N95 masks from the federal government will be rolling out over the next few weeks, various retail pharmacies say. Participating stores include Albertsons, CVS, Rite Aid, Vons, Walgreens and Walmart.

The Desert Sands Unified School District said on Friday it received a shipment of N95 masks and is in the process of "developing a distribution system for parents to receive the masks for their students."

Other school districts did not respond to an inquiry from The Desert Sun.

The Riverside County Health System is listed as participating health center in the initial phase of the Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center COVID-19 N95 Mask Program. County spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said the county is "waiting for some official word on when and where they might be distributed."

Thomas Morrison, Safety and Emergency Preparedness manager at DAP Health, said the nonprofit "filled out a request" to participate in the program and is "awaiting a response."

In Riverside County, 59.8% of residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated and another 7.3% are partially vaccinated. About 26.8% of the population ages 12 and older has received an additional/booster shot.

USA Today contributed to this report.

Ema Sasic covers health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at ema.sasic@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: COVID-19: County cases increase again, but hospitalizations fall

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