County could see spikes in COVID-19 cases if residents ignored warnings about Labor Day gatherings, officials say

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Health care workers conduct coronavirus testing at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore managed and operated by Riverside University Health System Public Health Department. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Although it won’t be known whether the residents of Riverside County heeded the warnings against large Labor Day gatherings from county officials for at least several weeks, Riverside County Public Health officials Friday, Sept. 4, reported 284 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths.

Because of the Labor Day holiday, the county did not release updated numbers Monday, Sept. 7. The first numbers coming out of the weekend were expected to be released Tuesday, Sept. 8, after press time.

In a news release issued Friday, county officials warned residents of another possible surge after the Labor Day weekend, similar to the one that occurred on the heels of Memorial Day and Fourth of July.

In recent weeks, the county said, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care units have decreased and they were hoping to keep that trend going.

“Through hard work and the sacrifice of residents, Riverside County has seen improvements in the numbers indicating the spread of coronavirus has slowed,” Kim Saruwatari, director of the Riverside University Health System – Public Health, said. “It would be a shame for the results of that hard work to be lost because of the holiday.”

The hot weather could have helped that cause, with temperatures soaring well into the 100s and 110s over the weekend, it may have kept people inside the house instead of venturing out.

The county reiterated its suggestions for residents to continue washing their hands frequently, wearing a mask in public and avoiding public gatherings.

“There is a temptation during the holiday to attend parties or gatherings and people forget about virus spread,” Saruwatari said. “These parties among family and friends are places where the disease spreads.”

The Friday numbers pushed the total number of residents that have tested positive for coronavirus to 53,987 with 1,067 having died from the coronavirus since the county began recording data back in early March.

The county said there were four fewer people hospitalized Friday – a total of 185. There are currently 63 people being treated in ICUs for the coronavirus, two more than the day before.

The county said that 45,990 people have recovered from the coronavirus, but that number is 677 more than what was announced Thursday.

Overall, 541,786 people have been tested so far.

There were 388 confirmed cases in county jails and another 1,750 cases recorded in state prisons within the county Friday. Prisons have seen a spike in recent days in new positive cases.

Locally, Temecula announced 969 cases, Murrieta 1,098, Wildomar 525, Lake Elsinore 1,156, Canyon Lake 89, Menifee 1,331, Hemet 1,584 and San Jacinto 1,050.

In local communities, Anza has 13 cases, East Hemet 312, French Valley 296, Lakeland Village 205, Valle Vista 215 and Winchester 19.

Temecula announced that 10 people have died from the coronavirus in the city, 21 in Murrieta, 14 in Wildomar, 19 from Lake Elsinore, two from Canyon Lake, 22 in Menifee, 54 from Hemet, 22 from San Jacinto, none from Anza, five in East Hemet, one from French Valley, two in Lakeland Village, five from Valle Vista and none from Winchester.

“We continue to see good news on hospitalizations,” Bruce Barton, director of emergency management, said to Riverside County supervisors Tuesday, Sept. 1. “There has been an ongoing significant decrease from the peak.

“At our peak (in July), we were at 550 hospitalizations with 170 in the ICU. We’re down significantly,” Barton said.

He did not anticipate a change in the trend anytime soon but acknowledged that the county’s 17 acute care medical facilities are preparing for a possible second wave surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall – in addition to a possible common flu outbreak similar to what occurred in 2018.

“We are working with the hospitals, but from our perspective, the flu mainly attacks the emergency room,” Barton said. “It will not overwhelm hospital capacity.”

Saruwatari told the board that the county remains in the “purple, most restrictive” tier, requiring many indoor businesses to remain closed or substantially limit capacity.

“Our positivity and case rates are coming down,” Saruwatari said. “We have to make sure we’re not fluctuating up and down between tiers.”

For the county to move to the next level, the red tier, it has to document less than seven new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population on a rolling seven-day average, and the positivity testing rate must be less than 8% in the same period.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.