Dine-in Restaurants, Retail Get OK To Reopen In Riverside County

Toni McAllister

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Restaurants across Riverside County can now reopen their doors to dine-in patrons, and retailers throughout the region can begin welcoming customers inside their stores under Gov. Gavin Newsom's accelerated phase 2 reopening of the local economy, it was announced Friday.

During an afternoon news briefing that was livestreamed through the Riverside University Health System-Public Health Facebook page, Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chair V. Manuel Perez made the announcement that the county had received a regional variance from the state to move into a phase "2.5" reopening.

"This is a huge success for the county, our local businesses, and a huge success for our communities," Perez said as he thanked residents for their adherence to health orders.

In addition to restaurants and retailers — which include malls, outlets and swap meets — under the state's accelerated phase 2.5, schools can reopen with modifications.

Bars and gaming areas are not permitted to reopen.

Riverside County's Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser has ordered all K-12 schools closed through June 19. The county board of supervisors noted during a meeting earlier this month that school superintendents across the region requested keeping that order in place.

The county has drafted guidelines for businesses to reopen although Perez said there will be no enforcement. Instead, the county is asking businesses to publicly share what they are doing to keep customers and employees safe. SEE: Riverside County Guidelines for Safe Reopening | Shopping | Dine-In Restaurants

The guidelines follow state and federal recommendations and include a detailed risk assessment and site-specific protection plan; training employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they have them; implementing individual control measures and screenings; implementing disinfecting protocols; and implementing physical distancing guidelines, among others.

There are a myriad number of businesses and organizations that cannot reopen under the state's phase 2.5. The following are barred from reopening under state order:

  • Personal services such as nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios
  • Indoor museums, kids museums and gallery spaces, zoos and libraries
  • Community centers, including public pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas
  • Limited-capacity religious services and cultural ceremonies
  • Nightclubs
  • Concert venues
  • Live audience sports
  • Festivals
  • Theme parks
  • Hotels/lodging for leisure and tourism – non-essential travel
  • Higher Education

The county and some local cities petitioned hard for the state's sign-off on the accelerated reopening. The county filed paperwork last week requesting the regional variance and on Monday the governor announced the criteria for moving into the next phase had been adjusted. The update proved to be in Riverside County's favor. Although the state looks at many factors for determining whether a county should get a regional variance, the focus on COVID-19 infections and deaths shifted. Instead, the state is analyzing the "positivity rate" among those tested for the illness and rate of hospitalization.

According to the governor, the positivity rate among total tests should be less than 8% in order to move to phase 2.5, or a county could show instead that it had no more than 25 new COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period. A rate of hospitalizations under 5% over the last seven days, or no more than 20 people hospitalized over the last 14 days, is also required. The county was able to meet both benchmarks, as well as several others including protecting essential workers; testing, containment and hospital capacity; protecting vulnerable populations; a plan for reopening; and a strategy for scaling back if a spike in cases occurs.

As of Friday, Riverside County has tested 95,977 people. The number who've tested positive for the illness stands at 6,464. Hospitalizations are at 194 — 64 of them in ICU. The death toll is 290. The number of people who've recovered from the virus is 4,180.

Perez and Riverside County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Karen Spiegel implored residents to continue vigilant disease prevention, such as wearing masks in crowded spaces and practicing social distancing.

“The data demonstrates that we are moving in a positive direction and we want to continue that trend," Spiegel said. "We look forward to reopening our regional economy in a safe and methodical manner.”

During Friday's news briefing, Dr. Geoffrey Leung, Riverside County Health System, called on every resident to get tested for the virus, saying the public needs to make it a "health habit."

"Testing is fundamental" to ensure an accurate positivity rate in the county; it is a barometer on the the rate of infection; and testing data can protect vulnerable populations through the identification of hot spots, Leung said.

Currently, 14 county or state operated testing sites are open. The sites are no-charge and open to anyone, whether they have symptoms or not. On Tuesday, new testing sites will open in Corona and San Jacinto, and an existing state-run site in Mead Valley will move to Temecula, bringing the total number of testing sites in the county to 16.

The county has the capacity to test up to 4,200 people a day but is only doing about half that number, Leung said. Campaigns are underway to encourage residents to get tested. Leung said the county wants to see more children tested before the start of the 2020-21 school year so health officials can better gauge the infection rate among kids.

For a complete list of all testing locations and instructions on how to make an appointment, visit www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus/testing.

As of Friday afternoon, the only Southern California counties cleared to move into a phase 2.5 reopening are Riverside, San Diego and Ventura, according to the state's website.

This article originally appeared on the Lake Elsinore-Wildomar Patch