The county health department identified more than 33,000 new cases in the past two days, reaching a total of 513,418 cases since the pandemic began.
Riverside County also has reached the half-million-case milestone. The California Department of Public Health says the county topped that mark a week ago and now has 540,723 confirmed cases.
The Riverside County public health department is reporting a smaller cumulative total — 442,753 cases as of Wednesday — but the county’s chief epidemiologist said the state numbers are correct and a data issue is keeping it from showing a similar figure.
The actual number of Inland Empire residents who have been infected is certainly much higher than any of the numbers being reported, as the official numbers only include people who took a kind of test known as PCR, and not those who never got tested or took other kinds of tests, such as rapid antigen tests that are becoming more common.
Even so, the case totals reported in the past month, as the highly contagious omicron variant began circulating, have been staggering.
San Bernardino County has reported about 136,000 new cases since Christmas, or more than one-quarter of the entire pandemic’s total.
State figures show Riverside County has added about 156,000 new cases since Christmas, or almost 30% of the total. Riverside County’s health department, however, has reported only about 53,000 new cases since Christmas.
The county and state health departments all pull from the same source, a database called CalREDIE. Wendy Hetherington, Riverside County’s chief epidemiologist, said that when test results go into that system, positive tests show up as a suspected case, and those are what the state reports on its coronavirus dashboard.
But under normal circumstances, before county health departments add the cases to their tolls, they have to review the case — for example, making sure the person is a resident of their county and didn’t have another positive test in the past 90 days — and change the case status to confirmed.
During last winter’s surge, Hetherington said, many counties fell behind in that confirmation process and asked the state to “auto-confirm” cases. The counties’ confirmation process didn’t stop, but auto-confirming helped prevent big backlogs.
After the current surge started, Riverside County asked the state to go back to that auto-confirm option but was told that the state couldn’t because of some system limitations, Hetherington said. Officials were told Wednesday that it could happen soon, so she expects that the county could be getting an “avalanche” of new cases, potentially next week.
One good bit of news for the Inland Empire’s omicron-stressed hospitals: The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has been leveling off in recent days. There were 1,074 positive patients in Riverside County on Tuesday, down about 3% from a week earlier, and 1,202 in San Bernardino County, down about 1%.