County loosens restrictions, COVID-19 deaths climb to 141

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In this file photo, a health care worker prepares to administer a COVID-19 test at Riverside County’s drive-thru testing facility in Lake Elsinore. Valley News/Shane Gibson file photo

While county officials debate and announce the loosening of restrictions and guidelines relating to the COVID-19 outbreak, Riverside University Health System – Public Health officials announced Tuesday, April 28, that 23 more people died, the largest single-day death announcement thus far.

RUHS officials said the deaths reported Monday span as far back as April 21.

“On Monday we usually have our largest numbers,” Jose Arballo, representative of Riverside University Health System told City News Service. “We’re catching up from the weekend, and other parts of the prior week, as well.”

RUHS also announced 92 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 3,735 people countywide. RUHS said 220 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 73 were being treated in an intensive care unit.

Overall, 1,303 people have recovered from the virus.

RUHS data shows that 45,417 people have been tested at five RUHS-run sites in Blythe, Indio, Lake Elsinore, Perris and Riverside.

Locally, the county reported Tuesday night, April 28, that Hemet had the highest number of cases in southwest Riverside County with 177 people ill and 10 deaths. Only Riverside at 672, Moreno Valley at 391 and Corona at 188 had more confirmed cases. Riverside currently suffers the highest number of deaths at 33.

As of press time Tuesday, Temecula had 91 cases and Canyon Lake reported 9. Both cities are reporting no deaths.

In Menifee, 10 cases were reported and Lake Elsinore had 96. Both cities are reporting three deaths, Murrieta reported 94 cases and four deaths, while Wildomar had 45 and San Jacinto had 58 cases. Wildomar and San Jacinto reported two deaths.

The county reported totals for unincorporated areas including French Valley at 33 cases, Anza at six, Winchester at one, Valle Vista at six, Lakeland Village at 23 and East Hemet with 11 cases. None of these unincorporated communities reported deaths as of press time.

On Tuesday, April 22, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, public health chief for Riverside County, told the county supervisors that he believed at least some of the restrictions can be lessened.

“Overall, the (growth) trend is blunting,” Kaiser said during the board’s meeting. “It’s possible that restrictions can be relaxed or modified without losing protection.”

Bruce Barton, director of emergency management, said only about half of the county’s hospital beds were occupied, though two-thirds of intensive care unit beds were full.

At the meeting, county Chairman V. Manuel Perez said that changes were taking place, referring to the health officer’s and county CEO’s joint decision to permit golf courses to reopen. Perez also said the allowance of “drive-in” church services, specified under a revised order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday, April 17, was another move in the right direction.

“Things are getting better,” Perez said, and Supervisor Chuck Washington agreed, saying that while the county was “not out of the woods yet, we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

While Supervisor Jeff Hewitt questioned the need to continue to require the use of face masks, Kaiser argued to an extent.

“But there may be a large portion of the population who may have minimal or no (COVID-19) symptoms,” Kaiser said. “So, we’re reducing the possibility of exposure (with the masks). But that does not replace social distancing to prevent transmission.”

The county announced Friday, April 24, that it has received $431 million from the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The funding will cover costs that are necessary to respond to the ongoing public health emergency related to novel coronavirus.

“This federal funding is greatly important to Riverside County in its mission of public health and safety and supporting our health care system and communities,” Perez said in a press release.

The county is working with state and federal partners to determine how the funds will be distributed. Eligible costs run from March 1 through Dec. 30 and include COVID-19 public health emergency expenses related to medical needs, public health, public safety and compliance with public health measures.

Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District announced additional limited reopenings Friday under new Riverside County Public Health orders. The county clarified that parking lots are now open to support activities in regional parks and on trails. Social distancing and face coverings are still required when out in the public. RivCoParks said guests could participate in noncontact outdoor recreation such as hiking, fishing, biking and horseback riding.

Still, playgrounds, picnic tables, nor play team sports, participate in gatherings or any public events are not permitted and sports parks, nature centers and historic sites remain closed to the public.

The city of Temecula’s Community Services Department reopened outdoor pickleball and tennis courts Monday only at Margarita Community Park, 29119 Margarita Road, and at Pala Park, 44900 Temecula Lane, during regular park hours.

The city urged participants to maintain safe distancing and wear masks while enjoying public parks and recommended that play be limited to one-on-one to maintain safe physical distance.

Temecula also announced Temecula Revive, an online resource focusing on the community’s economic recovery, which will follow direction set by federal, state and county public health agencies, is looking ahead to the revitalization of the local economy.

“In addition to being mayor of this great city, I am also a businessman,” Mayor James “Stew” Stewart said in a press release. “I know firsthand the high price we are paying at the city level and private business level by doing our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The impact on our economy is real, but the people of Temecula are strongly united in our resolve to rebuild quickly, safely, and with determination to make sure this recession is temporary.”

The online resource is designed to be a centralized clearinghouse of information developed with the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visit Temecula Valley.

The website, which can be found at https://www.TemeculaCA.gov/revive, provides concise and informative summaries of available resources, including federal and state stimulus packages such as the CARES Act. Information is divided into categories including individuals and families, small businesses, education and students, senior citizens, veterans and others. Each item includes who’s eligible, significant dates, a short overview and a direct link to the primary source of information. There is also a wide variety of supporting information, ranging from free webinars, links to job opportunities, food pantries and more.

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