Despite holidays, COVID-19 levels lower in Inland Empire than in the past – San Bernardino Sun

More people are infected with the coronavirus in the Inland Empire during the holiday season, but the levels are nowhere near previous surges seen in summer or last winter.

County public health data show that the number of positive cases has steadily risen over the past four weeks, in line with climbing cases reported statewide — but not to the “high” levels they hovered at in summer.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties are now at the “medium” level of coronavirus level spread, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker. Los Angeles County also is in the “medium” category.

In the Inland Empire, data from Nov. 1 through Dec. 22, show that cases in Riverside and San Bernardino counties peaked in late November.

Inland cases have overall “trended up” during the holidays, said Scott Pegan, a professor of biomedical sciences at UC Riverside.

“It’s a small bump, but nothing going towards the moon,” Pegan said.

Decreasing hospitalization rates in the Inland Empire give a more accurate representation of the pandemic’s current state, he said.

“We’re seeing few more cases in the ICU, well below what they once were, and within the capacity of what facilities can handle,” Pegan said. But with the holidays and people gathering, “things will probably get a little worse, before it gets better.”

Coronavirus cases have been increasing in Riverside County, in line with statewide trends, health department spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said.

Riverside County reported 82 new coronavirus cases, 196 hospitalizations and 20 people in intensive care units over the past week, according to its latest update Thursday, Dec. 22. As of a month ago, on Nov. 22, 142 people were hospitalized and 12 people were in ICU. The county recorded one death over the last week.

San Bernardino County reported 342 new positive cases and 250 hospitalizations over the past week in its Thursday update. No new deaths were reported in the week.

Cases seen in Los Angeles County are much higher, with public health officials reporting over 3,084 total positive cases Thursday. There were 25 new deaths, and 1,256 people hospitalized — a steady increase over the past 30 days, which has tapered off from figures seen one month ago.

San Bernardino County Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Sequiera said the number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 has “plateaued over the past two weeks,” citing population immunity, and therapeutic medicines such as paxlovid and molnupiravir.

The number of people in San Bernardino County hospitals compares “with 1,545 last year — nearly 85% less than a year ago,” he said.

“We are watching our data closely, because the period following holiday travels and gatherings may result in a peak lasting into the middle or late January, but at levels far less than prior years,” Sequiera said.

In San Bernardino and Riverside counties, officials are not considering directives such as a return to indoor mask wearing.

As infections climbed in November, LA County health officials said indoor mask mandates could return, but that has not happened. County health officials are “strongly recommending” that people wear masks in all indoor public settings.

The Inland counties are not seeing the same level of hospitalizations or deaths compared to previous years, during the delta and omicron variant surges of 2020 and 2021.

“Trends over the past couple years have shown increases after Thanksgiving and through the holiday season,” Arballo said by email. ”These increases may be related to colder weather leading to more indoor gatherings, such as large seasonal celebrations, increases in traveling allowing for germs to spread more quickly, as well as possible COVID-19 fatigue, with lower adherence to hand washing, masking, vaccination and other protective measures.”

In addition to the coronavirus, health officials are monitoring flu cases and the respiratory syncytial virus out of concern that the three could potentially flood hospitals with patients.

The virus, also known as RSV, has commonly affected young children. Officials are also reporting overall lower levels of the illness.

Arballo said suspected RSV cases have continually decreased countywide since a surge in November that mirrored state and national trends.

Sequiera said his county is seeing a “slight decrease” in self-reported RSV case rates and more beds available in pediatric ICUs.

As for the flu, though individual influenza cases are not reported to public health departments, influenza-like activity in Riverside County is “still high,” said Arballo, who added that such emergency room visits are “approximately five times higher than this week last year.”

In San Bernardino County, flu rates are down overall from a peak earlier this year, but are “still higher than this time last year,” Sequiera said.

Because of the presence of the coronavirus, the flu and RSV, he suggests residents exercise caution.

“While the numbers and cases are relatively flat, it is very important that people stay home when they are not feeling well, wash their hands frequently and be smart when in public or crowded spaces,” Sequiera said.

Meanwhile, despite more reported coronavirus cases and to the pleasure of medical professionals, Inland Empire hospitals are not seeing crowded COVID-19 units or wards as they did during the omicron surge of the 2021 holiday season.

Loma Linda University Health reported that its adult hospital has about 30 patients, but that the number fluctuates. It grew after Thanksgiving but has tapered off in the past few weeks.

“It is probably not a dramatic number certainly at this point but it certainly has gone up,” said Adrian Cotton, chief medical operations for Loma Linda University Health. “Overall, the number of patients we are admitting for respiratory type illnesses is certainly much higher than it was a month ago but less than it was in July and significantly less than what it was this time last year.”

Respiratory cases tend to go up this time of year as the weather gets colder and people gather in large groups in close quarters, Cotton said.

At Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, an official said it has seen similar levels of patients compared to this time last year and that those admitted for COVID-19 fluctuate between 30 to 40.

Darlene Scafiddi, the hospital’s executive vice president of patient care, said COVID-19 patients make up a small percentage of those in ICU beds.

The Pomona facility has seen an uptick in influenza and RSV cases but they have remained steady over the past couple of weeks as COVID-19 rates have almost doubled from last month.

The hospital opened an area in early November to quickly assess and treat patients who can then recover at home. It also has a COVID-19 triage tent in front of its emergency department, Scafiddi said in an email.

Redlands Community Hospital has seen a decline in COVID-19 and influenza cases, officials said.

Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino County saw a rise in coronavirus cases after Thanksgiving but has since seen cases even out.

“We have seen cases level off, but we will likely see an uptick in the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” said Dr. Anil C. Jagtiani, chief of the infectious diseases department at Kaiser Permanente San Bernardino.

Jagtiani, attributes the change since last year to the number of people who have been vaccinated or had the virus.

Medical officials continue to recommend vaccinations, mask wearing and social distancing or self-isolating if necessary. Still, COVID-19 will infect people.

Ontario resident Allison Caalim is one Inland resident who — until recently — had escaped the coronavirus. She spent Thanksgiving weekend with a headache, fever, chills and chest congestion after testing positive the day before the holiday.

“Walking upstairs felt like a whole workout,” said Caalim, an occupational therapy assistant in Redlands.

“I saw it coming this time, especially working in healthcare, she said. “A bunch of people were calling off (work), either sick or testing positive. It’s the change of weather, COVID, the cold and flu season. All of it.”

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