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Already grappling with a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and fearing a surge that local hospitals can’t handle, San Bernardino County is again turning to alternate care sites.

The county saw a record number of hospitalizations for the respiratory illness last week, with 613 people receiving care. That number was down to 595 by Monday, with 179 people in the ICU — that’s still four times what the county was seeing in the beginning of June.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reported each day in San Bernardino County.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reported each day in San Bernardino County.

The first alternate care site tents were set up in the parking lot of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.

“Our previous peak in hospitalizations was in early April, but we’ve recently experienced a significant increase in patients, including a doubling of our hospitalization rate over the past 30 days,” Dr. Troy Pennington, an emergency room physician at the hospital, said.

Pennington said the county thought it had hit its peak with COVID-19 hospitalizations in April, but the numbers have since surged, along with a rise in coronavirus infections.

“Most of our hospitals are to the point of activating surge capacity, which means they are using beds beyond their normal licensed capacity,” he said.

The 32-bed alternate site, which is comprised of a nursing unit, patient care areas and an isolation pod, will be staffed by the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week, officials said in a news release.

Video from inside the tents showed rows of cots, separated by partitions.

“While County hospitals are currently able to handle the increased demand, the Alternate Care Sites are being established to handle potential surges in cases, allowing hospitals to focus resources on those patients with the most serious needs,” San Bernardino County officials said.

Patients will be taken to the care site, dubbed “ACS Village,” if area hospitals fill up, ARMC Hospital Director William Gilbert said. Only those who have already been treated in a hospital and have significantly recovered, yet still need some care, will be taken to the back-up sites.

But if their conditions worsen, they will be transferred back to a hospital.

“That will free up beds and other resources for more severely affected COVID-19 patients, as well as people suffering from strokes, heart attacks, accidents and other emergency conditions,” Pennington said.

San Bernardino County has had 29,962 people test positive for the virus and 395 die of the respiratory illness it causes.

The County is still looking into where else it can set up sites near other county medical facilities, officials said.

The surge in cases mirrors trends in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations seen in neighboring counties.

Los Angeles County had 2,621 people hospitalized with confirmed and suspect COVID-19 cases on Tuesday alone.

Riverside County’s ICU beds reached 98% capacity across its hospitals in July, with a team of active military doctors and nurses coming to the aid of a Rancho Mirage hospital struggling with an influx of coronavirus patients.