County health officer extends school closures to April 30 as third COVID-19 death is reported

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Valley News Graphic/CDC Courtesy Photo

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A third person in the Coachella Valley has died from the coronavirus, Riverside County’s health officer announced today, while also announcing an extension of school closures and public gatherings of more than 10 people until April 30.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser told the county Board of Supervisors the extension was necessary to “break the cycle of contagion” of the coronavirus. In announcing the third coronavirus death, Kaiser did not disclose any details of how the woman became infected.

Two valley deaths were verified Monday, both in the Coachella Valley. No COVID-19 infections have been documented in the western county region.

“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.”

The doctor’s first directive on school closures was issued Friday and shuttered all public and private learning institutions — colleges and universities included — until April 3.

Last week, Kaiser, acting under authority granted to him by the board in a local emergency declaration, 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 until early April, though it now extends to the end of next month. Kaiser emphasized that restaurants, bars and other dining spaces are included in the restriction and should now focus operations on takeout services.

He also reiterated that houses of worship are included in the prohibition, though grocery stores and homeless shelters are among the few exemptions to the rule.

As to the exact number of infections recorded, Kaiser continued to cite the number 15, though he acknowledged not hearing about COVID-19 patients admitted to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, where Dr. Richard Loftus said he was treating new cases.

Loftus was invited to speak via telephone by board Chairman Manuel Perez, and the virologist predicted that before the end of this month, the probability was high that at least 10 coronavirus-related deaths would occur in the Coachella Valley.

The physician described the area’s senior population as “kindling for the virus.”

“We’re going to run out of COVID beds,” he said, comparing the virus to vulnerable communities being hit by a wave of “radiation.”

Kaiser’s schools directive was preceded by orders canceling the popular Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, both of which have been rescheduled to October.

“Unfortunately, the number of cases are going to keep going up for
awhile,” Kaiser said. “If everyone does their part, we’ll get through this together.”

The city of Indio declared a municipal health emergency Monday, structuring it according to guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health. The action led to temporary closures of the Senior and Teen centers, as well as cancellation of Movies in the Park for March and April.

City Hall will remain open, officials said, but some business will be curtailed.

The city of Corona followed suit, closing all non-essential facilities, including City Hall, without a definite date for reopening.

“We want our community to know that the city is taking every step necessary to safeguard the well-being of our residents,” said Corona Mayor Jim Steiner. “The city is a unique, unified community. I invite our residents to continue to step up and support each other during this challenging and fluid situation.”

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 is slated to approve Thursday, mandating that all bars, night clubs and breweries close, while placing restrictions on access to public facilities.

On Friday, Riverside City Manager Al Zelinka implemented a local emergency, which the council will take up this afternoon, closing all non-essential municipal facilities, including City Hall, as of Friday.

In Moreno Valley, officials announced postponement of all municipal events until at least the end of May, and starting Monday, participatory gatherings at the city’s Senior Center, Main and Mall libraries were not permitted. However, the facilities remain open, and services are available to individuals, officials said.

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, and the Riverside-based nonprofit Fuel Relief Fund, which provides gasoline to regions struck by disaster worldwide, announced cancellation of its May 8 fundraiser golf tournament.

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

Viral symptoms include fever, coughing and respiratory distress. A person usually develops the symptoms within two weeks of exposure, according to the CDC.