RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — As Riverside County prepares for Halloween and possible coronavirus spread at social gatherings this weekend, local health officials reported 253 newly diagnosed coronavirus cases and one additional death Thursday, while hospitalizations remained below 150 countywide.
The total number of COVID-19 infections recorded since the public health documentation period began in early March is 67,552, compared to 67,299 on Wednesday, according to the Riverside University Health System - Public Health. The number of deaths tied to COVID-19 now stands at 1,306.
The agency reported 149 COVID-positive hospitalizations, one more than a day ago, and that includes 35 intensive care unit patients, up three from Wednesday. COVID-19 hospitalizations are currently at or below levels reported in April.
The number of known active cases countywide is 5,822, a drop of 66 since Wednesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 67,552 — according to the county Executive Office. The number of verified patient recoveries is 60,490.
To prevent further virus spread, RUHS-PH officials said Wednesday they encouraging the community to make this year’s Halloween festivities "as safe as possible by planning lower-risk online, at-home and car-based activities."
To limit the spread of COVID-19, the California Department of Public Health released safety guidelines strongly discouraging traditional trick-or-treating and asks families to plan safer
alternatives such as candy scavenger hunts at home, online pumpkin carving and costume contests, and car-based tours of Halloween displays.
Riverside County health officials are following the state’s guidance.
The precautions come as the county's coronavirus positivity rate has climbed to 5.6 percent amid a significant increase in the volume of people being tested countywide. Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the testing rate had reached 221.6 tests per 100,000 population, compared to 195.5 per 100,000 a week ago. The state's threshold for large counties is 239.1 tests per 100,000.
"There's been a tremendous amount of effort to increase testing in the county," Saruwatari said.
With the increase in screening, there has been a proportional rise in positive results. The state-adjusted positivity rate edged up to 5.6 percent compared to an overall rate of 5.2 percent last week. Additionally, state data show the daily COVID-19 case rate is now 10.1 infections per 100,000 population. The previous rate calculated by the state was 9.1 infections per 100,000.
Except for the positivity rate, which is still low, the other figures make the county ineligible for movement back into the "red" tier under the California Department of Public Health's parameters.
Based partly on the low screening counts, the agency last Tuesday reclassified the county in the "purple" tier, the most restrictive under the state's color-coded coronavirus regulatory framework, meaning some businesses that had reopened in recent weeks were required to close again or move operations outdoors, though the compliance level was unknown. The designation impacts gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship, zoos and museums.
Riverside County officials have urged that returning to the red tier "is based on the actions that all of us take — including getting tested.
"Returning to red tier so that more businesses can return indoors as quickly as possible means that all residents must remain vigilant and get tested. Getting tested is a critical step to early intervention that slows the spread to others," an Oct. 23 news release from the county read.
—City News Service contributed to this report.