RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Riverside County health officials Monday reported 738 confirmed coronavirus cases and nine additional deaths since Friday, while the number of hospitalizations continued to fall.
The update comes amid some growing tension about state restrictions that require ongoing closures in some parts of the economy due to virus spread. The latest COVID-19 figures also come a day before state officials are expected to ease some of those restrictions in several parts of California, including in Riverside County.
Riverside County's COVID-19 Numbers
The total number of COVID-19 infections recorded since the public health documentation period began in early March is 57,419, compared to 56,681 at the end of last week, according to the Riverside University Health System.
Officials said the number of deaths tied to COVID-19 increased to 1,162, compared to 1,153 Friday.
As of Monday, 131 patients were hospitalized countywide for treatment of the virus, 12 fewer than Friday. That figure includes 47 people in intensive care units — three more than Friday, according to RUHS.
Sept. 22 Eyed
State data released Sept. 15 showed Riverside County had met the state's coronavirus thresholds required to reopen more industry sectors. If the county maintains those benchmarks or improves upon them, there is a high likelihood that businesses may begin welcoming customers again.
For the first time since California's color-coded four-tiered "Blueprint" for reopening was unveiled last month, Riverside County met the criteria on Sept. 15 for moving from the state's "purple tier" to the less-restrictive "red tier."
Riverside County has been prevented from moving forward with more reopenings because it had exceeded the state thresholds of an 8 percent coronavirus positivity rate over a seven-day period and a case rate of seven infections per 100,000 population over the same period.
State data released Sept. 15 showed the county with a 6.4 percent positivity rate and a 6.7 case rate. If the figures hold or improve, the county will move into the red tier on Sept. 22, according to Jose Arballo, spokesperson for Riverside University Health System - Public Health.
The state releases its data each Tuesday, and health officials are expected to hold a noon news briefing to discuss the figures.
A move into the red tier will allow reopening of the following industry sectors:
—Indoor retail (at 50 percent maximum capacity)
—Malls, destination centers, swap meets (at 50 percent maximum capacity with food courts allowed to reopen at reduced capacity; common areas would remain closed)
—Indoor personal care services
—Indoor museums, zoos and aquariums (at 25 percent maximum capacity)
—Indoor places of worship (at 25 percent maximum capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
—Indoor gyms, fitness centers (at 10 percent capacity)
—Indoor restaurants (at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer)
—Schools can reopen on a widespread basis (without a waiver)
Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt Tuesday will ask his colleagues to support a proposed two-month plan to lift all public health regulations that have locked down large swaths of the regional economy.
"The state's lack of clear guidelines has left thousands of people uncertain about their ability to pay bills and provide for their families," Hewitt said in his "COVID-19 Reopening Plan," posted to the Board of Supervisors' policy agenda.
"The economic impacts are clear — thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost due to the shutdown of our economy," the supervisor said, referencing the region and state. "We will feel the burden of these economic impacts for years to come. It is time for Riverside County to take responsibility for our own well-being."
The centerpiece standard within the plan is a compromise concession by the governor and California Department of Public Health to set the allowable testing positivity rate at 14 percent, which the county currently easily meets.
Hewitt's reopening proposal advocates a three-phase plan with a relatively expeditious timeline, beginning with permitting all dine-in restaurants, houses of worship, indoor offices, personal grooming establishments and shopping malls to open before the end of this week.
The liberation, however, would be structured in accordance with state guidelines, including social distancing requirements, use of facial coverings in closed and crowded spaces and strong sanitation practices by business operators.
The plan additionally calls for the county chief executive officer to be the frontline authority on how well the reopening is working, moving Riverside University Health System staff, including county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, into an advisory role. Kaiser's previous health directives were a source of frustration for some of the supervisors. In May, the board voted unanimously to overturn his directives and instead align with state guidance.
"Riverside County will gradually reopen ... in a safe and measured way, with constant consideration of the ability of the local hospital system to handle a surge in COVID-19 positive patients," Hewitt wrote. "The proposed plan is risk-based and allows for evaluation of health outcomes before proceeding through the phases."
Under the plan, Phase II of the countywide reopening would begin Oct. 13 and would permit the resumption of wedding receptions and all group events that are capped at 25 percent capacity, or a 100-person limit, whichever is less.
Again, the county CEO, in consultation with RUHS staff, would monitor the phase-in to determine whether it's going too fast and posing too many risks, requiring a step back.
Phase III would be designated for Nov. 3, and it would permit the unfettered operation of fitness centers, movie theaters and bars — with state virus-control standards remaining in place.
Some gyms have remained in business within the county despite the state mandates, at risk of incurring fines and other penalties. Speakers at recent board meetings have referred to cease-and-desist orders being issued by the Office of County Counsel, acting as a state enforcement agent.
Opponents of the ongoing public health lockdowns have emphasized to the board their personal and financial distress, as well as the effects on children's education because of the school closures.
Hewitt's plan does not address the state's standards for reopening schools, which are restricted to remote or distance learning, unless they obtain waivers. If the county moves into the red tier, schools may reopen without a waiver.
Hewitt expressed hope that the changes he's seeking will "create a shift towards a culture ... that promotes voluntary compliance with safety measures."
—City News Service contributed to this report.