RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A Riverside County emergency health order requiring residents to use face masks when outside the home and adhere to social distancing practices is now in force until June 19, though the prospect of the business sector gradually returning to some degree of normalcy is possible, county officials said today.
“For the immediate future, this is the new normal in Riverside County,” Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said during a briefing livestreamed from the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside, in which two additional coronavirus deaths and 207 new confirmed cases were announced.
“The virus is still in circulation,” Kaiser said. “A big part of what moves the right way and the wrong way depends on what we do.”
Kaiser’s previous health orders from late March and early April were due to expire Thursday, but he signed an amended directive with a few modifications, while keeping in place local mandates that are not required by the state, including the use of face coverings.
Riverside University Health System officials said the revised order is intended to align with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home executive order from March 19, which remains in effect for an undetermined period.
Kaiser’s revised directive also keeps the countywide shutdown mandate in place for all public and private schools, including colleges and universities, until June 19.
Kaiser said the upward spike in temperatures and summer-like atmospheric conditions should “slow the virus down,” but he stressed that face coverings in any setting, including wide open spaces or recreational sites, need to be utilized.
“People should be expected to live with them for awhile,” the doctor said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth face coverings to contain COVID-19 “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies,” which are described by the CDC as “areas of significant community-based transmission.”
The county health officer’s directive emphasizes use of the minimum six-feet-apart rule when in public.
Riverside County’s current tally of documented infections is 3,942, compared to 3,735 on Tuesday, and 3,084 a week ago. A key metric for gauging the prevalence of the virus, the so-called “doubling rate” when infections increase 100% over a set period, has now stretched to just over two weeks. Officials described the propagation threat as serious when it was every five days.
Figures show 143 people countywide have died from virus-related complications, and 1,346 have recovered from COVID-19 infections. Earlier this month, RUHS officials were predicting up to 13,000 infections and 200 deaths by the start of next week, which current data suggest will not be reached.
“We’ve been having conversations with local leadership and businesses, and we hear the frustration and struggles and financial hardship and the need for economic recovery,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Manuel Perez said. “We know folks are ready to return to work.”
Perez pointed to the criteria announced Tuesday by Newsom for a “four- phase” reduction in state regulations to unchain the private sector from coronavirus restrictions as a major step forward, coming on the heels of President Donald Trump’s multi-phase “Opening Up America Again” framework unveiled April 16.
“We know the workforce is ready, and we know businesses are ready,” the supervisor said. “We need to do it in phases.”
Perez said testing will be key to garnering data that can be supplied to the California Department of Public Health showing whether the county is succeeding in containment of the coronavirus.
He said he believes the county is already on the verge of entering the first two phases, when retail stores will be permitted to reopen under mitigation measures, using curbside pickup of items, and manufacturing of “nonessential” goods, like clothing and furniture, can resume.
All county residents are eligible for coronavirus screenings if they make appointments over the phone in advance at 800-945-6171.
According to county Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari, about 50,000 residents have been tested for COVID-19. The county is seeking to expand screening facilities, with new sites potentially opening in the San Gorgonio Pass and the San Jacinto Valley, joining sites already in operation in Indio, Lake Elsinore, Perris and Riverside.