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Local COVID hospitalizations down, health experts cautious as holidays approach

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BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - After hospitals were bombarded with COVID-19 patients between July and October, they are starting to see a decline.

Enloe Medical Center in Chico cared for about 19 COVID-19 patients per day. Of these 19, only four were in the ICU.

This is significant progress from the surge Enloe saw in the past, reaching 138 COVID hospitalizations at one point in September.

They are now seeing about 1/5 of the patients it saw during the last surge, something that people living in Chico tell Action News Now makes them optimistic and hopeful it will last.

“I think it’s really awesome that the numbers are down. However the way that COVID has been working, it’s hopeful, but it’s also kind of I would not be surprised if they went back up. Hopefully they stay down for forever, that would be nice,” Dusty Lofink who lives in Chico said.

Sally Thompson also lives in Chico and can remember getting vaccinated for polio as a kid. Now, she thinks this is the best way to combat the coronavirus.

“I think it’s fantastic, but I still think we are far from our target of 75% of our Butte County population being vaccinated for pure protection for everybody,” Thompson told Action News Now.

Right now, 47.5% of people living in Butte County are fully vaccinated, with 52% receiving at least one dose. Enloe continues to see mostly unvaccinated people needing to be hospitalized for the virus, as 89% of the COVID-19 patients last week were unvaccinated.

St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Tehama County is also seeing a decrease in hospitalizations. Back in September, all of their ICU beds were full of COVID patients, but the decline started about three weeks ago.

Senior Director of Operations at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital told Actions New Now the decline in hospitalizations in Tehama is likely linked to rising vaccination numbers and those who had already caught the virus providing some layer of protection.

Still, with the holidays right around the corner another surge in COVID cases is a possibility.

Butte County Public Health (BCPH) said one way to stay safe during the holiday gatherings is to get a vaccine or booster shot.

There are currently no travel restrictions in California, but local experts told Action News Now you should not gather if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

BCPH also is encouraging people to take advantage of testing for the virus, regardless of vaccination status, not just when you return from a trip, but also before you even hit the road.

They also recommended getting at-home rapid test kits.

Most people told Action News Now they are planning on having larger holiday gatherings than they did last year.

“Last year it was my husband and I, and I think we had a prime rib,” Thompson said. “This year we will have a prime rib with family and that’s what it’s all about really.”

Thompson feels more confident this year since her and her husband, children and grandchildren are all fully vaccinated.

In the case of a surge, both Enloe and St. Elizabeth’s are prepared.

Pennebaker said St. Elizabeth’s will follow the same plans they had during the last surge which included increasing staff and using additional space in their Day Surgery unit to care for COVID-19 patients.

They get the extra staff from state resources, but as for the extra space, they hope it does not come to this again since it takes away from surgeries.

“That is not helpful for our community, so we are really looking for other options to open up additional spaces outside of our Day Surgery to accommodate other patients so we can keep the elected surgeries moving here,” Pennebaker told Action News Now.

Currently, St. Elizabeth’s has both ICU and Med/Surge beds available.