More new coronavirus infections have been reported over the past week, both in Fresno County and across the entire central San Joaquin Valley, than at any previous point in the 22-month-long COVID-19 pandemic.
The record-breaking surge has pushed Fresno County to more than 185,000 total cases to date, while Friday’s case reports pushed the Valley to more than 400,000.
Almost 18,000 new cases were confirmed by laboratory testing this week in Fresno County, according to local and state health officials. That’s on top of nearly 12,000 cases that surfaced in the week ending Jan. 15 in the county.
Both weeks far exceed the previous weekly high-water mark of just over 9,600 cases in late December 2020, during last winter’s surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID-19.
For the broader region including Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced and Tulare counties, this week brought reports of more than 36,300 new cases among Valley residents. The previous week, about 22,600 new infections were reported. As in Fresno County, the past two weeks far exceed anything experienced during the winter 2020-21 surge, where weekly cases peaked at about 16,500 in the week before Christmas 2020.
The recent conflagration of cases mirrors what’s happening across California and the U.S. as the omicron variant of coronavirus – considered far more contagious than previous strains of COVID-19 – infects more and more people, including those who have previously been vaccinated.
But medical experts maintain that most people who fall ill to the omicron variant suffer cases that are less severe than those caused by the delta variant that dominated last summer and fall – especially among the vaccinated.
That’s reflected in hospitalization figures that, while almost triple what they were three weeks ago, remain lower than the winter 2020-21 peaks – but they are approaching those records of a year ago.
As of Thursday, hospitals across Fresno County were caring for 519 patients admitted with confirmed COVID-19 infections, including 77 who were sick enough to require treatment in intensive-care units. That compares to 183 confirmed patients on Jan. 1, including 42 in intensive care.
By contrast, the highest number of COVID-19 patients being treated at any given point in the winter 2020-21 surge was 635 in January 2021, when ICU patients exceeded 130.
The latest burden on hospitals, both from patients and from staff who are missing work because they have been exposed to or infected by the virus, has prompted medical facilities to postpone some surgical procedures that are not emergencies.
And last week, emergency medial services officials reinstated an “assess and refer” policy for ambulance services in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties in an effort to provide some level of relief for hospital emergency rooms. The policy calls for ambulance crews to assess a patient who calls 9-1-1 for an ambulance. If the case is a true life-threatening emergency, they will transport the patient.
If it’s not an emergency, however, crews are instructed to refer the patient instead to their own family physician, an urgent-care clinic or other health clinic, or to use telehealth services for medical advice.
To date, since the first confirmed infections in the Fresno region were reported in early March 2020, 185,292 Fresno County residents have at some point tested positive for the virus, including 2,429 whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.
For the six-county region, total confirmed cases now stand at 401,421 over the past 22 months, including 5,120 fatalities.