The number of patients admitted to hospital with confirmed coronavirus infections reached a new high on Thursday in Orange County – rising 97% over the past three weeks – an indicator that, according to health experts, shows that the virus is clear spread faster in the region.

District health officials reported Thursday that 691 patients with confirmed coronavirus infections were hospitalized. Seven days earlier, 556 people were hospitalized. A week earlier, there were 437 people in hospitals and a week earlier, there were 351.

The surge has prompted hospitals across the county to prepare for an increase in sick patients, said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Department.

"These trends are very worrying and we can expect the impact on our health system to worsen over the coming days and weeks," said Chau. “If the increase goes beyond or beyond their ability to mobilize resources, it will be a real burden. Stressing the hospital systems means stressing the ability to care for all patients, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. "

As of Wednesday, hospitals reported that 27 patients were from the county, including 18 from the Imperial county, whose hospital system was overwhelmed during the pandemic.

The increase in hospitalization is due to the fact that the number of new infections in Orange County continues to increase. Health officials reported 1,292 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 21,517. Officials also reported 26 deaths, increasing the county's death toll to over 400.

While these numbers help to give an overall picture of the number of viruses in the region, Dr. Shruti Gohil, deputy medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention at UC Irvine, trained her eye specifically on hospital numbers, which experts believe is a better indicator of serious cases in the community.

"If you look at the number of people who need to be hospitalized, you can better see the tip of the iceberg," said Gohil. "This tip is a large part of the population, which indicates widespread transmission by the community."

The number of people in intensive care units has also increased steadily throughout the district, although not as quickly as the total number of hospital stays. As of Thursday, 234 patients were treated in intensive care units. Three weeks earlier, there were 149 patients, according to the district.

This is likely the result of an increase in infections among younger people who are less likely to have a serious illness, and a sign that doctors are better equipped to identify COVID-19 patients earlier and care for them faster, he said the authorities.

Gohil noted that the increasing number of hospitalizations in Orange County is directly related to the relaxation of the restrictions on home stays, which have made it possible to resume eating in indoor restaurants and reopen bars last month.

"If you look closely, it's exactly within that incubation period," said Gohil. “In my eyes, the reopened restaurants and bars really sent this psychological message that things were fine. People went out more and it offered a level playing field for this virus to infect people. "

Last week, the county was forced to close down bars, indoor restaurants, and a number of other businesses as the number of infections and hospitalizations increased. According to officials, the new rules, which were prescribed by the state, will remain in force for at least two weeks.

The increase in new cases and the recent withdrawal of store openings have prompted supervisor Michelle Steel to repeatedly urge residents to wear face covers in public. Steel, along with other members of the county supervisory board, had previously questioned the need for the county mask requirement.

The debate became so intense that the Orange County health official resigned in early June after weeks of verbal attacks against the public, including a death threat, over the mandatory mask rules. Chau, her successor, overturned the rules under strong pressure from the supervisory board and instead urged residents to wear face coverings in public.

"To stop the virus from spreading, hygiene and social distance guidelines must be followed," Steel said Thursday. "The pandemic has affected our daily lives in a way we could not have imagined a few months ago. Responsibility for protecting public health lies with each of us so that our friends and neighbors can go to work responsibly. In these uncertain times, we all have to do our part. "

County director general Frank Kim defended the county news about masks and said officials had always recommended the use of facewear and that the county was "very consistent in this regard."

Other districts in Southern California have also seen a sharp increase in hospitalization.

In Los Angeles County, the number of patients with confirmed coronavirus infections has increased from 1,429 to 2,037 in the past three weeks, an increase of approximately 42%.

"Our three-day average of those hospitalized is now over 1,900 patients," said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health in Los Angeles County, on Wednesday. "These are more people hospitalized for COVID-19 every day than at any other time in the pandemic."

The number of hospitalizations in Riverside County rose from 285 three weeks ago to 506 this week – an increase of about 77%. The San Bernardino district recorded an even stronger increase in the same period – around 119%.

In the past two weeks, the total number of COVID-19 patients who need hospital care has increased by 44%.

In response, hospitals are making adjustments to their surgical plans by building an inventory of personal protective equipment, test supplies, and cross-training staff to prepare for the care of more COVID-positive patients, said Carmela Coyle, president of California Hospital Assn.

"We will rise differently this time," she said on Wednesday. "We have learned a lot in the past four months. We know that we have various instruments for the care of COVID-positive patients. We have therapeutics like Remdesivir and others that actually shorten the stay of these patients. We use fewer of these patients on ventilators. "

Despite the increased number of hospital stays, officials have not suggested that hospitals postpone electoral procedures like the one at the beginning of the pandemic.

"The increase is about finding a balance between caring for COVID-positive patients and continuing care for everyone in the state of California," said Coyle.

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