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Riverside County sees a 'five-fold' increase in COVID-19 case rate, positivity rate

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) logo The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 7/27/2021 Ema Sasic, Palm Springs Desert Sun
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Riverside County has experienced a more than five-fold increase in its COVID-19 case rate and positivity rate over the past two months, according to county data presented at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Despite increasing cases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversing course Tuesday and saying fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks in indoor settings of high coronavirus transmission, Riverside County is still not planning changes to its masking guidance at this time.

"Riverside County Public Health is aware of the most recent guidance/recommendations from the CDC regarding the use of masks for vaccinated individuals in high transmission areas," county spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said in a statement. "We are reviewing the action and are awaiting guidance/recommendations from state health officials.”

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: In this Dec. 21, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Lydia Mauney works in a COVID-19 unit at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. The U.S. registered its highest deaths yet from the coronavirus on the same day as a mob attack on the nation's capitol laid bare some of the same, deep political divisions that have hampered the battle against the pandemic. © Jae C. Hong, AP In this Dec. 21, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Lydia Mauney works in a COVID-19 unit at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. The U.S. registered its highest deaths yet from the coronavirus on the same day as a mob attack on the nation's capitol laid bare some of the same, deep political divisions that have hampered the battle against the pandemic.

Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung said Tuesday the county's case rate is 10.7 cases per 100,000. The low seen last month was 1.5 cases per 100,000. 

The county's overall positivity rate is 6.5%, compared to a low of 1.1% seen last month, Leung said, and its positivity among at-risk populations is 6.4%.

More: CSU system to require COVID vaccines for in-person activities this fall

More: California changes course on schools enforcing mask mandate

"Overall, the numbers today represent more than a five-fold increase in case rate and positivity over the past two months," Leung said. "However, these numbers are still far below our previous surge numbers in January 2021."

Monthly case totals for the county were 101,057 in January; 14,487 in February; 5,011 in March, 3,989 in April; 2,251 in May and 820 in June. From July 1 through Tuesday, the county has recorded more than 4,000 cases.

The county reported an additional 1,247 cases on Tuesday, according to the county dashboard, bringing the total to 306,836 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

When asked if the county should be alarmed at increasing numbers, Leung said health officials did expect to see a rise in cases following the state's reopening on June 15. The "most effective tool" available to curb increasing numbers, he said, is vaccinations.

Nearly half — 49.1% — of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 56.6% are partially or fully vaccinated, Leung said Tuesday.

"Nationwide, we know that 97% of new COVID hospitalizations are occurring in the unvaccinated individuals, and that's really a reminder to how effective the COVID vaccine is. When we look at the state of California, of all vaccinated people, only 0.05% of the vaccinated individuals have had a post-COVID infection, and that typically is very mild," he said. "Now right, with over 56% of our eligible population partially or fully vaccinated, we've made quite a bit of progress during the past half year, but really to protect our community, as we've heard before, we need to reach 70% to 80% of our community to have herd immunity."

On the topic of facial coverings, Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said: "I'm not declaring at all that we should go toward mandating a mask, however, I just want us to be aware of what's happening at this time in hopes that folks will be willing to be vaccinated and hopes that people obviously still socially distance. Just be thoughtful at the end of the day."

Several counties in California are recommending facial coverings in indoor public settings, while Los Angeles County has made it a mandate.

He added, however, that if the county needs to have a discussion about masks in indoor settings, "we should have that."

The city of Los Angeles also announced Tuesday it will require city workers to submit proof of vaccination or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests. This comes a day after California announced state workers and health care employees will be required to do the same. 

The policy falls short of a vaccine "mandate,'' offering employees the option of undergoing regular COVID testing instead of providing proof of vaccination. However, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Council President Nury Martinez are "committed to pursuing a full vaccine mandate." 

Long Beach, San Francisco and New York City have announced similar plans.

Riverside County Director Of Emergency Management Bruce Barton said there are 222 individuals hospitalized in the county, with 47 people needing intensive care.

The county saw a low in hospitalizations the first week of June with 27 patients, while the high was the second week of January with 1,675 patients. The high and low for ICU patients was 380 the second week of January and four the first week of June.

Barton said most hospitals are reporting a three to four times increase in COVID-19 patients, and the county is doing check-in calls with them. 

"We are continuing to monitor this very closely should this become a more exaggerated surge," he said.

Barton added the county has acquired "quite a bit" of personal protective equipment and said it will be deployed if hospitals need it.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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: Riverside County sees a 'five-fold' increase in COVID-19 case rate, positivity rate

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