Licensed ICU bed capacity in Riverside County drops to 0%, officials say

Riverside County health officials on Monday reported 6,741 newly diagnosed coronavirus cases and 13 virus-related deaths since Friday, as the number of available licensed intensive care unit beds countywide dwindled to zero.   

"The number of ICU beds has reached capacity, however, the hospitals themselves have the ability through their surge plans to convert other equipment and beds into ICU beds," said Riverside University Health System spokesman Jose Arballo.  

RELATED: Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern California

Arballo said there are currently no plans to open up the county's two federal medical facilities in Riverside and Indio, although he said the equipment remains stored at the sites if needed.   

"We are confident that the hospitals have the ability when they get to this point to be able to add more capability to their facilities," he said.

The ICU figure includes both COVID and non-COVID patients.

Shane Reichardt, the Senior Public Information Specialist for the County of Riverside Emergency Management Department, said hospitals are implementing their "surge plans."

"[With the surge plans] They do things like canceling elective surgeries, and moving patients to more appropriate beds if they were in the ICU and their condition improved," said Reichardt.

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Reichardt said the biggest concern in the county is staffing.

"We are definitely concerned. As people are becoming ill, our hospital and emergency workers are also being exposed and ill and that takes them out of the availability at least temporarily," he said.

Adding to the staffing concerns, there are strikes planned at Riverside Community Hospital, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center and Los Robles Health System. The strikes will begin at 6 a.m. December 24, 2020 and end at 6 a.m. January 3, 2021.

Reichardt said the two federal medical facilities in Riverside do not provide the appropriate form of care at this time.

"Unfortunately, that's a lower level of care so it doesn't do us a lot of good for ICU bed availability. It doesn't increase our ICU bed count. It doesn't give us more capacity and if we move medical staffing to that federal medical station, that staffing is not there in the hospital where we need them most," he said.

Reichardt said the COVID surge appears to be from Thanksgiving gatherings.

"Every indicator is showing us this is probably a result of the Thanksgiving holiday and families getting together and people spreading the virus through gatherings so a lot of what we're doing and seeing today is in response to something that happened two weeks ago. We want people to take this seriously and do everything possible to keep themselves and their families safe," he said.

The aggregate number of coronavirus infections recorded since the public health documentation period began in early March was 119,691 as of Monday, compared to 112,950 on Friday, according to RUHS data. The number of deaths tied to COVID-19 rose to 1,586.   

The RUHS reported 930 COVID-positive hospitalizations, up 121 from Friday. The number includes 184 patients being treated in intensive care units, up 14 from Friday. Both are records.   

The county does not release updated coronavirus statistics on weekends.   

Meanwhile, Riverside County officials announced that they anticipate the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to begin arriving in the region on Friday.

Officials estimate the county will receive between 14,000 and 15,000 doses. Selected healthcare workers at the county's acute care hospitals will be the first to receive the vaccine, which has been found to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19, according to Pfizer and U.S. officials.  

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The number of known active virus cases countywide is 47,291, an increase of 5,504 compared to Friday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total -- 119,691 --according to the County Executive Office.  

The number of verified patient recoveries is 70,814. That figure has previously been underreported due to health officials not being able to confirm the status of patients in follow-up interviews.   

Riverside County's overall state-calculated positivity rate is 14.8%. The 11-county Southern California region's available ICU capacity dropped to 2.7% Monday.   

The metric is a key indicator for Gov. Gavin Newsom's "regional stay-at-home" order, which went into effect just before midnight on Dec. 6 locally.

The order was triggered when ICU bed availability across Southern California fell below 15%. The mandate is slated to remain in effect until at least Dec. 28, when regions may be moved out of lockdown if bed capacity has recovered.   

It 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. 

Riverside County health officials anticipate the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on December 18.