Additional coronavirus cases identified, including nursing facility vendor

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A contract worker from a skilled nursing facility in the Coachella Valley is among six additional novel coronavirus cases confirmed today by Riverside County health officials, bringing the number of known infections countywide to 22.

According to county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the vendor from the Rancho Mirage Health & Rehabilitation Center was diagnosed after testing began on all 140 employees and 94 residents of the facility last week.

A woman who had been at the rehab facility was admitted to Eisenhower Medical Center with COVID-19 symptoms and died earlier this week. The Department of Pubic Health said there have been three deaths — all in the Coachella Valley — from complications related to the pathogen, which first surfaced in China in December.

“We are working diligently to ensure those who may have been exposed are taken care of, but we know COVID-19 is present in the community, and there will be more cases,” Kaiser said.

Rehab spokeswoman Staci Trang said the vendor is recovering at home and is “in good spirits.”

The COVID-19 case count is now comprised of 13 Coachella Valley residents, four western county residents, three southwestern county residents and two from a Diamond Princess cruise liner that was quarantined after docking in San Francisco Bay. One of those patients has since returned to the county for recuperation, according to Riverside University Health System spokesman Jose Arballo, but there was no word on the other.

During the county Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, Kaiser extended his prior directive regarding crowd sizes, mandating that no more than 10 people gather at any once place, at any given time, with a few exceptions, until at least April 30.

The order, which Kaiser was empowered to enact under a board- authorized local health emergency declared on March 10, further mandates the closure of all public and private learning institutions — including colleges and universities — until April 30. The health officer’s prior orders were due to expire on April 3.

“Community spread is imminent without immediate intervention,” Kaiser told the board. “We have to make interventions stick in order to break the cycle of contagion so COVID-19 does not overwhelm our hospital capacity.”

Last week, he directed that gatherings anywhere within the county be limited to 250 or less. That had the immediate effect of forcing cancellations of numerous events at entertainment and other venues.

On Monday, Kaiser changed the order, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to cap gatherings at 10. He emphasized that restaurants, bars and other dining spaces are included in the restriction and should now focus operations on takeout services. However, the establishments can still host gatherings of groups of 10 in subdivided rooms, and the city of Riverside’s health emergency provisions adopted Tuesday specifically recognized that exception — as long as the eateries do not exceed 50% capacity.

Kaiser reiterated that houses of worship, weddings and sporting events are included in the extended prohibitions, though grocery stores, homeless shelters and daycare centers are exempt.

Eisenhower Medical Center virologist Dr. Richard Loftus told the board via telephone Tuesday that he was treating cases at the Rancho Mirage hospital and said the probability was high that at least 10 coronavirus-related deaths would occur in the Coachella Valley before the end of the month. The physician described the area’s senior population as “kindling for the virus.”

The cities of Corona, Indio, Palm Desert and Palm Springs have all implemented local emergency measures synthesized with the county’s requirements and recommendations from the California Department of Public Health.

Over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked for seniors and people in compromised health to self-isolate at home wherever possible to reduce exposure risks. The governor also asked for bars, wineries and night clubs to reduce services. There was no formal order associated with the announcement, only voluntary action.

Also over the weekend, Palm Springs City Manager David Ready declared a municipal health emergency, which the city council amended Tuesday, mandating that all bars, cannabis lounges, gyms, night clubs and breweries close, while placing restrictions on access to public facilities.

In Moreno Valley, officials announced postponement of all municipal events until at least the end of May, and participatory gatherings at City Hall, the Senior Center, Main and Mall libraries are not permitted.

Some businesses shuttered without any prompts from authorities. The Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula closed Monday, and Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro said operations would be discontinued until the end of the month, with employees still receiving salary and benefits.

All events at the Fox Performing Arts Center in downtown Riverside have been postponed until further notice, while other theaters have been shutting down. Even the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, a largely outdoor venue, announced it would be closed for the remainder of March.

Frequent hand washing, social distancing and basic hygiene were emphasized as good precautionary practices against viral infection.

COVID-19 symptoms are comparable to the flu and include fever, coughing and respiratory distress. A person usually develops the symptoms within two weeks of exposure, according to the CDC.