Riverside responds to coronavirus with temporary hospitals

After reporting its largest increase in coronavirus cases within a single day, Riverside County is opening two federal medical stations to alleviate stress at local hospitals as they prepare for an influx of patients.

The county’s daily tracker reported 59 COVID-19 cases with six fatalities Tuesday. On Wednesday, cases jumped to 107 and eight people had died, according to the Riverside County Public Health Department.

Seven of the deaths were in the Coachella Valley, and the eighth was in the mid-region of the county, spokeswoman Brooke Federico said. All of the individuals were 70 or older and some had underlying health conditions.

The increase in cases comes just days after the county opened two drive-through testing sites, one in the Coachella Valley and the other in Lake Elsinore. The sites are “seeing hundreds of patients” daily, Federico said. Between drive-through and private lab testings, she said the county has been able to keep a close eye on the volume of cases.

“We know many people are getting tested, and that will mean that we will see the number of cases rise,” she said. “We want to really stress the importance of social distancing and following the governor’s orders to stay at home because the number of cases is continuing to rise, and that means that it’s spreading.”

The county’s call center, where residents can schedule an appointment for a test, has been fielding roughly 2,500 calls per day, according to Riverside University Health System spokesman Geoffrey Leung. The hotline, which is managed by about 80 employees, also provides behavioral health, nurse and physician support. The phone number to make an appointment is (800) 945-6171.

Members of the National Guard began setting up one of the two temporary medical stations on Wednesday at the county’s Fairgrounds in Indio. The second location, which will be in the western part of the county, has not been confirmed yet, Federico said.

The Indio facility is expected to open within one to two weeks, after workers install plumbing and electricity.

About 30 members of the California National Guard are moving in materials, including beds (125 for each facility), bed sheets and protective gear (including surgical masks and gloves). The county received the supplies from the state earlier this week, Federico said. They will not perform law enforcement duties while on site.

The temporary medical stations will treat less severe COVID-19 patients and current local hospital patients who require a lower level of care, she added.

There will be about 30 to 40 staff members, including doctors, pharmacists and county employees, working at each of the temporary medical facilities, Federico said.

“This medical station will relieve stress from our hospitals, allowing them to better provide higher levels of care for our sickest individuals, and get more people on the way to recovery faster,” Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said.

During a news conference Thursday, Leung said the number of COVID-19 cases could double within four to five days.

At that rate of spread, Leung said local hospitals could reach capacity by April 12 to 21, and could run out of ventilators by April 22 to May 5.

This grim projection “underscores the importance of all our hospitals having a surge plan and plans for expanding their hospital beds and intensive care unit beds,” he said. Officials hope the new testing sites will help to reduce the the rate of spread.

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