County changes how COVID-19 cases are counted, jump by nearly 800 over weekend

Sharde Hairston, LVN, sanitizes a chair before conducting a COVID-19 test at Grace Mellman Community Library in Temecula. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

The news came down Monday, June 15, from Riverside County health officials indicating that there were 795 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and one more death, bringing the total number of 11,285 cases and 384 deaths countrywide.

The Riverside University Health System said 382 of the newly reported cases were confirmed Sunday, marking the second-largest one-day total since the first locally acquired coronavirus case was reported March 8.

The largest one-day uptick – 384 cases – was reported Tuesday, June 8, right about the time it was announced that the county would be changing the way they report coronavirus-related statistics.

According to Jose Arballo Jr., senior public information specialist for the Riverside County Department of Public Health, said the change was necessary for the more accurate data.

“What happened was, we were taking our numbers during the day in the afternoon at about 2 o’clock, and in the past what was happening is we were trying to get some of the later numbers that came in after the state did a download of data,” Arballo said. “So what Riverside County was doing before was getting their information later than other counties were, so the state would have to create a new data download.

“If you remember last Friday (June 5), we weren’t able to get numbers because the system went down, then a couple of weeks before that, the same thing happened. What we decided to do is do what all the other counties do and take our data from an earlier download from the state.”

Arballo said the county is now taking the data from midnight to 6 a.m. every 24 hours.

“That is why it was a bigger number on Monday, but that number should even out since we are now doing it every 24 hours,” he said.

When asked for the county’s take on why there has been a steady increase in confirmed cases of coronavirus, Arballo pointed to higher testing numbers per day.

“We have 16 sites, both county-run and state-run doing testing throughout the county,” he said. “We have had those for the better part of three weeks now. Our numbers have always been high in per capita testing, so that doesn’t account for the general increase over the past week and a half. Usually, we test between 175-150 per day on a normal day, but over the past week and a half, our numbers have been well over 200 (COVID-19 positive tests) and now over 300.”

Arballo also talked about a rash of cases that broke out inside Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe. According to the Riverside University Health System, 991 male inmates have been diagnosed with the virus and one inmate has died.

“Their cases are in the hundreds there over the last couple of weeks so it has impacted our numbers as well,” Arballo said. “Our numbers are still higher than they have been, even factoring in Chuckawalla, so we anticipate an increase with the opening of certain businesses, community meeting places, Memorial Day weekend, those are some of the factors that we believe caused the uptick in cases.”

On Friday, June 12, despite the uptick in cases, the county moved into the first half of Stage 3 under the state’s four-stage public health de-regulation plan, which meant businesses such as hotels, gyms, bars, museums, theaters and wineries were formally allowed to reopen their doors.

“We have long looked forward to reopening more Riverside County businesses, which provide valuable goods, services and jobs vital to the fabric of our economy,” county Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “It’s very important that while visiting these businesses, all residents continue to do their part to slow the spread of the disease by wearing face coverings and maintaining 6 feet from others.”

Arballo echoed Spiegel’s statement.

“We are hoping that the case numbers will even out or flatten out as people go about their business,” he said. “We do want to keep reminding people to keep their covered, wash their hands, keep their distance, the usual safety precautions since the coronavirus is still in the environment.”

As for trends that the county is following regarding the virus, Arballo indicated that the county was still working on tracking the virus.

“We are still putting together our contact tracing and we are trying to track down where there are issues as we move forward, whether it’s at particular locations or events that are causing an uptick,” he said. “But that is going to take a while. We are looking at patterns too, patterns of behavior, so that we can form a strategy of how to reduce our numbers in high-risk locations.”

One of the possible high-risk locations that Arballo mentioned would be the Empire Polo Grounds, home to the highly attended and popular Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, which were permanently canceled recently.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county public health officer, signed an order nixing the festivals for 2020 entirely, citing fears the coronavirus could worsen by the time the festivals rolled around.

“Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward,” Kaiser said in a statement.

All passes for this year’s festivals will be honored in 2021, according to organizers.

Locally, the county also reported Tuesday that Hemet had the highest number of cases in southwest Riverside County with 316 and 21 deaths.

The cities of Lake Elsinore (221 cases) and Murrieta (153 cases) have suffered 8 deaths and six residents of Menifee (215 cases) and San Jacinto (187 cases) have died due to the disease. Four people from Wildomar (72 cases) have also died.

Temecula had 173 cases and Canyon Lake reported 13, but neither city has suffered a death caused by the virus.

The county reported number totals for unincorporated areas including French Valley at 51 cases, Anza at six, Winchester at one, Valle Vista at 28, Lakeland Village at 48, and East Hemet with 47 cases. Only Lakeland Village had reported that a resident died from the virus.

Managing editor Kim Harris and City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at