RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Ninety-nine percent of Intensive Care Unit beds in Riverside County are reported Monday to be occupied as California experiences a surge in new COVID-19 cases and evidence of rising community transmission.

There were just five empty ICU beds remaining in Riverside County as of Sunday, County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said in remarks reported in the Desert Sun. The number of occupied ICU bed represents a 19 percent increase over the past two weeks. Of the 380 ICU patients in Riverside County, 28 percent are confirmed COVID-19 patients.

What You Need To Know

  • 99 percent of ICU beds in Riverside County reported to be occupied

  • As of Sunday, just five ICU beds remained in empty in the county

  • Number of occupied beds represents 19 percent increase in past two weeks

  • County's hospital beds are 63 percent occupied overall

Overall, the county's hospital beds are currently 63 percent occupied. This means hospitals have flexibility to convert some of those empty beds to ICU beds under their surge plans, which is what hospitals plan to do in the coming week, Federico said.

The state requires counties have 20 percent or more ICU beds available.

Riverside county's testing positivity rate over the past seven days was 10.6 percent, which is higher than the state's 8 percent standard.

The rising number of cases prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to recommend Sunday that bars in Riverside County and several other counties close to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

"NEW: Due to the rising spread of #COVID19, CA is ordering bars to close in Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, and Tulare, while recommending they close in Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, & Ventura," Newsom tweeted at 12:17 p.m Sunday.

Riverside County health officials said they are conferring with state officials on how to proceed.

"We are working closely with the state to determine next steps regarding bars, including any potential impacts to restaurants that also have bars," Federico said Sunday.

Bars in the region were allowed to reopen on June 12, so long as they followed strict safety protocols. But Riverside County has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases recently. On Friday, health officials reported three COVID-19 deaths and 501 newly confirmed infections, along with a jump in the number of patients in intensive care units.

The total known infections stands at 15,643, with the death toll at 438 and documented patient recoveries totaling 7,383, according to the Riverside University Health System. Still according to RUHS data, 318 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in county hospitals as of Friday, seven more than Thursday, with 105 of those patients being treated in ICUs, up by 10.

"Californians must remain vigilant against this virus," Newsom said in a statement Sunday. "COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger. That's why it is critical we take this step to limit the spread of the virus in the counties that are seeing the biggest increases. Each of us has the power to limit the spread of this virus. Wear a face covering and keep physically distant outside the home. Don't gather in groups, and if you are older or have a condition that puts you at higher risk of COVID-19, protect yourself by staying home."

The counties ordered to close bars had been on the state's County Monitoring List for 14 days or more, while the counties that were only being advised to close them were on the list for three or more consecutive days, but less than 14 days.

"We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission," said Dr. Sonia Angell, the state's public health director. "Closing bars in these counties is one of a number of targeted actions counties are implementing across our state to slow the virus' spread and reduce risk."

The California Department of Public Health guidance says that "Public health professionals within California and throughout the nation have identified bars as the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open. Beyond the higher risk of transmission in bar settings, contract tracing, a key measure needed to control spread, is also more challenging in bars because of the constant mixing among patrons and a lack of record-keeping of those in attendance."

Newsom said Sunday that "hospitalizations (are) going up. The number of people in ICUs going up. The number of people on ventilators going up.... We are (still) in the midst of the first wave of this pandemic. We are not out of the first wave."

Newsom said Friday said the virus is spreading so rapidly in Imperial County that the state has asked county officials to reinstate a strict stay-at- home order because the hospital system in the area can't handle the surge in cases.

Riverside County's Emergency Management Department director told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that 10 to 15 patients a day are being transferred from neighboring Imperial County to Riverside County and surrounding jurisdictions. He said fewer than a dozen of those patients were receiving care in medical facilities within Riverside County, but the figure as of Friday was unavailable.

Newsom says Riverside is one of 11 the state is watching due to coronavirus surges, along with Imperial, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Kern, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

Newsom last week ordered all California residents to wear face coverings in most settings outside their homes to help slow the spread of the virus. The statewide mandate requires residents to wear masks in "high-risk situations," which cover virtually all scenarios.

Riverside County had previously rescinded its mask mandate, and it was unclear how closely the statewide directive would be enforced locally, if at all.