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Combined surges in coronavirus from holiday celebrations and traveling will likely make January the worst month of the coronavirus so far, according to county and state health experts.

After hearing an update on the coronavirus and vaccination rollout during Tuesday’s San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting, chairman Curt Hagman stated, “A word of caution: January will be our highest level of COVID. Be careful out there.”

Mr. Hagman said spikes are predicted in the next couple of weeks because cases will show up within seven to 10 days after the holidays.

Deaths

Public health director Corwin Porter said the good news is that the positivity rate for COVID-19 has leveled out to 22 percent but “we continue to see a number of deaths from the surge.”

He said 41 people died in the past seven days and 75 people died during the previous seven days for a total of 1,454 deaths since the pandemic began.

In Chino Hills, 11 have died and in Chino, 71 have died, including 26 inmates at the California Institution for Men and one inmate at the California Institution for Women.

Mr. Porter said a variant strain of COVID has been detected in the county where two cases were reported from the same household in Big Bear.

One member of the household had contact with a traveler who returned from the United Kingdom on Dec. 11 and began showing symptoms on Dec. 14.

According to a press release issued by the county on Jan. 1, the variant strain is prevalent in London and southeast England and was not unexpected. 

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally, according to the press release.

“Currently, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death and no indication that the vaccines are less effective on this strain,” according to the news release.

Hospital surge

William Gilbert, chief executive officer for Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said hospitals are overwhelmed, especially those in the high desert.

“We expected another surge and we’re seeing that already in our emergency rooms,” he said.

The biggest factor is not enough hospital staffing, he said. 

“We have 500 vacant beds but because of staffing, we’re only able to use 25 percent of those beds,” he said. “There is a nationwide demand for nurses, especially critical care nurses.”

Urban areas hit

Mr. Porter said the urban areas in the county have been impacted the most by the coronavirus. “Those with challenges in their community with poverty are the hardest hit and this has been consistent for months and months on end,” he said. 

Examples are Rialto, Colton and parts of Bloomington, he said.

Newly-elected Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr., said, “We have to amp up the education in those areas. We need to do a better job of getting the message out in English and Spanish about testing and safety.”

Supervisor Hagman said the county has an advertising budget and needs to work with the community in the local hot spots. He said the county has reached out to the mayors of those communities.

He said Los Angeles County is taking a much different approach that is more heavy-handed than San Bernardino County “and their numbers are worse than ours.”

Mr. Hagman said the county needs to work as closely to the ground level as possible. “I’m tired of saying it but we need to wear masks, social distance, and practice good hygiene,” he said.

Vaccines

Andrew Goldfrach, chief operating officer of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and the vaccination team captain for the county, said the second tier of Phase 1A of the vaccination rollout is underway with doses being distributed to caregivers with In Home Support Services, public and community health centers, including facilities for mental health, urgent care facilities and primary care physicians who are able to receive and handle the vaccines and clinics, and home health agencies.

Finishing out Tier 1, the Centers for Disease Control is coordinating the distribution of vaccines to staff at skilled nursing and assisted living facilities through partnerships with Walgreens and CVS.

“We are ahead of the game and vaccinating more than our neighbors and the rest of the state,” he said, “with 45 percent of our allocation completed.”

Mr. Porter announced in an emailed coronavirus update that a new enhancement has been added to the county’s COVID-19 website called the “Quarantine and Isolation Calculator.”

The tool enables residents to determine how long they should self-isolate after testing positive for the disease, after being exposed to somebody with the virus, or after being sick with the virus.

“This is a simple, easy-to-use tool that will allow people to determine exactly how long they need to isolate to give people confidence in their efforts to protect others,” said Mr. Porter.

County testing facilities are expanding their hours to accommodate an increased demand.

Some locations will be open as late as 8 p.m. and on Saturdays. 

The McCoy Equestrian Center in Chino Hills is a county testing site (see Chino Valley Notes on Page B2 for testing dates in January and February).

A list of testing sites, the calculator tool, vaccination information, and resources can be found on the county’s COVID website at sb covid19.com.

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