People wear protective masks against the coronavirus while riding scooters on June 8 in Studio City, Los Angeles. 

LOS ANGELES – Health officials have said that the public needs to look beyond the rising number of coronavirus cases in California and focus on whether hospitalizations are increasing as a sign that reopening the economy is leading to new outbreaks.

Statewide, coronavirus hospitalizations have been relatively flat for the last six weeks, even as officials have allowed myriad businesses to open their doors and people begin to resume old routines.

But in some parts of California, hospitalizations are again on the rise – and if the trend continues, it could force officials to slow the pace of reopenings.

The reasons for the upticks vary and are open for debate, but health officials have expressed concern about some people not following safety recommendations, including wearing face coverings and social distancing.

“We have met the enemy, and they are us,” said Dr. Robert Levin, the health officer in Ventura County, where hospitalizations are up. “And many of us have to do a better job of social distancing and quarantine. Some of us are doing a great job; we’re stalwarts. If we can do this – and I know we can – we can prevent the state from telling us that we must take a step back from some of the gains we’ve made in opening our activities and businesses.”

Last week, there were an average of 91 people hospitalized in Ventura County with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections, the highest such number since early April. That’s a 75% increase from each of the previous two weeks, a Los Angeles Times analysis found.

Orange County has experienced a 76% jump in coronavirus intensive care unit hospitalizations in the last six weeks. In the week of May 4, the county reported a seven-day average of 94 people with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections in its ICU beds. Last week, that number rose to an average of 165 being hospitalized.

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley has seen a 45% rise in coronavirus ICU hospitalizations in the last six weeks.

Meanwhile, L.A. County and statewide ICU hospitalization rates have been declining.

L.A. County once had the worst ICU coronavirus hospitalization rate on a per capita basis among all of California’s 58 counties. But that’s changed, with Imperial County, Kings County and now Orange County having larger ICU coronavirus hospitalization rates, The Times analysis found.

L.A. County now reports 5 ICU coronavirus patients per 100,000 residents; Orange County is now reporting 5.2 ICU patients per 100,000 residents; Kings County, 6.1 ICU patients per 100,000 residents; and Imperial County, 9.9 ICU patients per 100,000 residents.

Though Ventura County health officials say there is still plenty of space in its hospitals, it’s possible the county could have to press the pause button on reopening additional sectors of the economy if hospitalizations continue to rise.

“At this point, it would be foolhardy to just open up and continue to open up everything given ... what our numbers are doing,” Levin said during Tuesday’s meeting of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

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