Riverside County Hospitals Brace As Holiday Travelers Set Off

Toni McAllister

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Holiday travel in the United States is forecast to be down by about 30 percent due to concerns of spreading the coronavirus, according to figures from the Automobile Club of Southern California.

In Southern California and across the state, the numbers are projected to decrease by about 38 percent, the Auto Club reported. Still, about 5.7 million Southlanders and 9.3 million people statewide are forecast to leave home for the holidays — most of them by car — which doesn't bode well for hospitals and frontline workers who are inundated due to COVID-19.

In Riverside County, 1,322 COVID-19 patients were receiving hospital care Wednesday, an increase of 44 people over the previous day. Of the total, 247 patients were in ICU, a decrease of three since Tuesday.

It is projected that Riverside County COVID-19 hospitalizations will jump to between 1,800 and 2,200 patients in January if virus spread continues at its current rate, according to Dr. Geoffrey Leung, who serves as ambulatory medical director at RUHS-Medical Center. He characterized the surging hospitalizations as "unsustainable" during a Friday news briefing.

Since December 1, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in the county. On that date, RUHS reported 600 COVID-19 hospitalizations, of which 127 patients were in ICU.

Riverside County has a total of 3,623 licensed hospital beds and 497 ICU beds. All ICU beds are full — about half of ICU patients are ill with COVID-19 — although hospitals are converting space, where possible, for critical patients.

Despite escalating hospitalizations, local health officials are urging people who experience a medical emergency to seek care right away.

Delaying treatment "could only make matters worse for your health," Riverside University Health System-Public Health officials said this week. "The good news is, California hospitals are doing everything necessary to keep patients and health care workers safe from the spread of COVID-19."

December is not over but it's already been the deadliest where COVID-19 is concerned. On Wednesday, RUHS reported 1,805 deaths, an increase of 16 since Tuesday. On December 1, the death toll stood at 1,443.

The total number of people who have tested positive for the virus since testing began in the spring now stands at 156,834 countywide, more than half of which are active infections. The total caseload represents an increase of 5,121 new positive tests since Tuesday, according to RUHS.

The number of current infections is likely underrepresented because cases are only counted through testing.

Healthcare and frontline workers are currently receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a process that began December 17 in Riverside County. However, it is expected to take several more months before the vaccine is available to everyone.

This article originally appeared on the Murrieta Patch