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90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, 97% of deaths in Riverside County among unvaccinated

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) logo The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 9/14/2021 Ema Sasic, Palm Springs Desert Sun

While COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decrease in Riverside County, unvaccinated residents still make up a majority of patients.

The county reported 538 hospitalizations on Tuesday, down three from the previous day. Tuesday marks the fourth straight report that hospitalizations have been decreasing. 

Intensive care unit numbers haven't been as consistent, however. There are currently 146 individuals in intensive care, up seven from Monday. 

Over the past several weeks, approximately 90% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated, said Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung during a recent public health vaccine update.

"Those who've been previously vaccinated who do end up in a hospital with COVID, they tend to be much older, they tend to have multiple medical issues, maybe they're getting treatment for cancer, so their body's not responding well to the vaccine," he added.

a woman sitting on a table: Nurse Tony Saldana administers a COVID-19 vaccine inside the Curative operated site at the Indio Fairgrounds in Indio, Calif., on June 28, 2021. © Taya Gray/The Desert Sun Nurse Tony Saldana administers a COVID-19 vaccine inside the Curative operated site at the Indio Fairgrounds in Indio, Calif., on June 28, 2021.

Read more: Unvaccinated people 37x more likely to get COVID-19, 120x more likely to die than the vaccinated in Riverside County

There are currently 27 patients at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs who have tested positive for COVID-19, and seven are in intensive care. Among those 27, 10 are vaccinated, according to spokesperson Todd Burke. It is not known, however, if all of those hospitalized are seeking care for COVID-19.

Burke added that the hospital's numbers have "come way down" in recent weeks. Early last month, there were 35 patients hospitalized.

There have been two deaths in the past 24 hours at Desert Regional. Information about vaccination status and age was not available. 

At JFK Memorial in Indio, 14 patients have tested positive for COVID-19, and five individuals are in the ICU. All of the patients except one are unvaccinated.

Eisenhower Health is also seeing a slight decrease in patients, according to spokeswoman Lee Rice. As of Tuesday, there were 28 patients in the hospital and seven in ICU. Three weeks ago, there were 53 patients.

Among the 28 currently hospitalized, 22 are unvaccinated, two are partially vaccinated and four are fully vaccinated.

The hospital has had 15 COVID-19 deaths — among 11 unvaccinated and four vaccinated individuals — since Aug. 29. A majority of these patients had co-morbidities, Rice said.

In recent weeks, the county has experienced an increase in daily deaths reported. On Tuesday, there were an additional 14 deaths, bringing the total to 4,851.

This year, while COVID-19 vaccines have been available, approximately 97% of deaths in Riverside County have been among unvaccinated individuals. 

"The vaccine works very well in preventing serious complications and death," Leung added.

Overall, Riverside County added 1,225 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. 

There have been more than 9,400 COVID-19 cases so far this month. That exceeds total case counts for the months of March (5,011), April (3,989), May (2,251), June (1,005) and July (6,840). 

The county's case rate is 28.0 per 100,000, and its positivity rate is 7.6%. Both are down from Monday's numbers — 28.8 per 100,000 and 7.7%.

Riverside County has a "moderate" community transmission rate, which is defined as 10 to 49 cumulative cases per 100,000 residents in a week, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker. 

San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties fall under the "high" community transmission rate, while Los Angeles and Orange counties have a "substantial" rate.

The Palm Springs Unified School District reported confirmed COVID-19 cases among 32 students and six staff members on Tuesday. Rancho Mirage High School had the most cases, with six among students. 

There are 70 students and 20 staff members with confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 10 days at the Desert Sands Unified School District. La Quinta High School has six student and two staff cases. The school district also confirmed Monday that a teacher at Shadow Hills High School died this past weekend due to COVID-19 complications.

Read more: Shadow Hills High School teacher dies from COVID-19 related complications

The Coachella Valley Unified School District reported 28 cases among students and one among staff on Tuesday. There are five student cases at Coachella Valley High School, the most for any school in the district.

There have been 373 confirmed delta, 169 alpha, 20 gamma and two beta variant cases in the county from specimens collected between April to Aug. 5. However, this could be a significant undercount as the county said there is "a lag in the data of up to a month or more due to the time required for laboratories to sequence and report variant cases to the Public Health Department."

Leung said the delta variant, which is more contagious than the original virus, is making up "almost 100% of all the virus that we're seeing." However, he added, it is not necessarily sending people to the hospital at higher rates.

The county is keep an eye on the mu variant, which was first identified in January in Columbia. It has been labeled a variant of interest by the World Health Organization, but not by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The variant has been identified in Los Angeles County and in other states, Leung said, but there is not enough data available currently to know if it is resistant to antibodies or the vaccine, or whether it causes more severe symptoms. 

More than half — 55.8% — of Riverside County residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 64% have been at least partially vaccinated. 

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: 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, 97% of deaths in Riverside County among unvaccinated

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