Calif. county official: The 'curve is no longer flat'

Riverside County reversed some of its reopening plans after seeing a spike in cases


Kailyn Brown
Los Angeles Times

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — Recent upticks in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have erased Riverside County's progress in fighting the virus and the "curve is no longer flat," Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county's public health officer, told the Board of Supervisors this week.

Riverside County saw a sharp increase in cases in June, causing bed capacity in intensive cares to reach nearly 99% and the doubling rate of infection — the amount of time it takes for cases to double in number — decrease to almost 27 days. As of Wednesday afternoon, of the 417 hospitalized patients, 117 of them were intensive care.

Riverside County has seen a spike of COVID-19 cases in June. County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser told county supervisors that the
Riverside County has seen a spike of COVID-19 cases in June. County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser told county supervisors that the "curve is no longer flat." (Photo/Riverside County Facebook)

Kim Saruwatari, the county's public health director, said the county has roughly 202 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, which is more than double the state's 100-case threshold. Since early June, the number of people who tested positive for the virus was also above the state's 8% limit, but it reached 12.3% on June 26, she said.

The county reported 772 new cases and six additional deaths Wednesday, bringing its totals to 18,041 cases and 463 deaths.

"We are now at the point where our hospitalizations and ICU rates are higher than they have ever been previously during this pandemic," Kaiser said during the meeting held Tuesday via video conference.

Earlier this week, Kaiser issued a public health order to close bars until further notice, following Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement. Bars had been allowed to reopen in Riverside County on June 12, but local officials worried that they had become a hot spot for clusters of new cases.

Bars are among the most difficult for contact tracers to track potential infections because people go in and out of them so frequently, Kaiser said. Plus, he said in a statement, "People don't social distance well after a couple of drinks."

Saruwatari added that the chances of the virus spreading at a bar is heightened because people don't socially distance or wear face coverings, and they tend to "speak louder because it's a loud environment." The louder someone talks, the more droplets potentially containing the virus they spread.

Kaiser said the bar closure will be enforced, and those who defy it risk losing their liquor license.

Bars "may be part of the explanation why it is our younger individuals who are now falling ill," he added. People between the ages of 18 to 39 make up the largest number most positive cases, according to the county's website.

"They are less likely to die, but they can still have severe symptoms," Kaiser said. "They may still require hospitalization and they can still spread the disease."

In terms of deaths, those between ages 45 to 64 have as many deaths as those older than 85, Kaiser said, and they are the second-highest age group in absolute numbers of cases.

Aside from bars, Kaiser said recent protests and private gatherings — during and after Memorial Day — also contributed to the new cases. "Many [protesters] did wear face coverings and distance appropriately as recommended, but many did not," he said.

Saruwatari said the county has seen clusters of cases at restaurants, big box stores, and salad and date packaging plants. But, she said, "The majority of cases are really groups of people who are coming together. They're not social distancing. They're not wearing face coverings. They're together for more than 15 minutes at a time.

"It's the family barbecues. It's the having some friends over because it's been a long time since you've seen them, and it's that close contact with people that's really leading … to the increased cases that we're seeing now."

During Tuesday's meeting, officials also took time to address rumors that COVID-19 patients from Imperial County — which only has two hospitals — were being flown in at night to Riverside County hospitals for treatment, which was in turn, overwhelming those treatment centers.

Bruce Barton, the county's emergency management director, said that as of Monday only five of the 365 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Riverside County are from Imperial County. Upward of 100 patients from Imperial County have been admitted during the pandemic, he said.

Barton also noted that Riverside County hospitals admit transfers only if they have the capacity to do so, and that they are usually transported during the day by ambulance.

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