Riverside County Hospitals Plead With Public To Stop Gathering

Toni McAllister

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue their upward rise in Riverside County, as area hospitals report the virus has stretched their capacity and caused severe shortages of beds and staff.

Coronavirus hospitalizations countywide jumped to 1,484 on Wednesday, an increase of 117 patients since Tuesday, according to Riverside University Health System. The total figure includes 297 intensive care unit patients, 10 more than Tuesday. The hospital figures are confirmed daily, according to Riverside County Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton.

The county has 3,623 licensed hospital beds and 497 ICU beds, Barton has reported.

Another 250 beds that could be made available at field hospitals in Riverside and Indio won’t be activated due to lack of available medical staff amid the ongoing pandemic surge, an official told The Press-Enterprise.

One month ago on Nov. 30 — before the Thanksgiving surge took hold — the county reported 585 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 129 of those patients in ICU.

Hospital officials this week pleaded with the public to follow precautions against the coronavirus as cases surge and staffing and space at local hospitals dwindle to dangerous levels.

At Riverside Community Hospital, a former cafeteria was converted to an alternative care space to handle the surge of patients who are waiting in the emergency department for a hospital bed.

"What I see is devastation," the hospital's Chief Nursing Officer Annette Greenwood told City News Service. "I've been a nurse for 33 years and I've never seen anything like this."

She said the current spike in coronavirus cases is mostly attributable to Thanksgiving gatherings. The potential impact of the Christmas holiday has only begun to appear.

"I don't think we've seen at all what the Christmas surge will look like yet. And that's what's scaring us to death. They're talking about doubling the numbers that we're seeing right now and that would overwhelm us," Greenwood said.

On Tuesday, City News Service reported that the California National Guard deployed nine members of its medical corps to help the hospital's emergency department and six nurses to help the ICU, but officials said the hospital remains short-staffed, with an ICU that is completely full.

"There's not additional resources to gain in terms of nurses," Greenwood said. "People are picking up extra shifts. They're everything to these COVID patients. You can't have your family in with you because of the risk so we're praying with these patients, we're helping them call their families, we're singing with them and when we need to we're being that last hand to hold before people pass into eternity. And so the strain emotionally, along with physically is just overwhelming to the team."

Kaiser Permanente's Riverside and Moreno Valley medical centers reported that their ICU is also at capacity and they have had to convert conference rooms, waiting rooms and other areas of the hospitals into patient care areas as part of their surge plan.

Officials at Riverside University Health System-Medical Center said the facility was implementing a surge plan and that its ICU was over capacity, with beds in other parts of the hospital filling up fast.

"I just can't reach out enough to say please wear a mask, please social distance. Don't get together at New Year's Eve, please don't," Greenwood said.

There is no sign that the virus spread is slowing down in Riverside County. The RUHS reported another 3,849 COVID-19 infections Wednesday, lifting the total county case number since the pandemic began to 180,537. Just over two-thirds of the reported cases are now cleared of illness, according to the RUHS.

On Wednesday health officials also reported another eight deaths due to the virus, bringing the total to 1,951.

The 11-county Southern California region's available ICU capacity is officially at 0 percent and as a result the state's stay-at-home order, which initially went into effect on Dec. 6, was formally extended Tuesday. There was no specific timeframe given for the order to be lifted.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the region can emerge from the order when its projected ICU capacity tops 15 percent — a figure unlikely to be met for weeks to come.

The stay-at-home order impacts bars, theaters, museums, hair salons, indoor recreational facilities, amusement parks and wineries — all of which are supposed to remain closed.

Restaurants are confined to takeout and delivery, with capacity limitations on retail outlets.

RELATED: A new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom has been found in Southern California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. Read more here.

—City News Service contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Temecula Patch