County moves past 9,200 coronavirus cases, 350 deaths

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Protesters at the corner of Winchester and Murrieta Hot Springs roads in Murrieta Saturday, June 6, were wearing masks to avoid being infected or transmitting the coronavirus. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

Public health officials across California continue to express concerns that large protests inspired by the death of George Floyd may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases.

According to The Associated Press, protests erupting across the nation over the past week – and law enforcement’s response to them – are threatening to upend efforts by health officials to track and contain the spread of coronavirus just as those efforts were finally getting underway.

For health experts to continue to make advancements in contact tracing, they need newly infected people to have the ability to remember everyone they have come in contact with over the past several days.

That procedure will be difficult with people coming in after attending mass gatherings.

The process also relies on the public’s trust in government.

“These events that are happening now are further threats to the trust we need,” Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, told the AP. “If we do not have that, I worry our capacity to control new outbreaks becomes more limited.”

Riverside County – which has the second-highest number of cases statewide – is preparing to move forward in reopening additional economic sectors, officials said Friday after the release of Stage 3 criteria of the governor’s four-stage reopening framework.

Currently, Riverside County, like most of the rest of the state, is in the “advanced” Stage 2 point of the de-regulation framework that was put in place by the three-dozen or so public health executive orders signed by the governor since mid-March.

Governments throughout the country are hoping to continue to reopen businesses, but health experts also hoped that reopening would also come with contact tracing and isolation to prevent another wave of new cases from starting.

In Riverside County, one of the state’s thresholds for progressing along the de-regulation path is for the number of residents screened for COVID-19 to increase. Currently, almost 5% of the county’s population has been tested, 138,613 as reported Tuesday morning, June 9.

Kim Saruwatari, director of public health for Riverside County, said a hurdle needed to move toward a full reopening is for the positivity rate in tests to remain below 8%. The county topped out at 8% June 3, but it was consistently below that figure before that time.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations has remained relatively flat, Saruwatari said, hovering just above or below 200 on a daily basis.

Riverside County Supervisors Karen Spiegel and Manuel Perez said the county is prepared to move forward in the next stage of deregulation Friday and the board was expected to discuss the matter further during the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday.

“We will be excited to share how this will be implemented,” Spiegel said during a news briefing in downtown Riverside.

Perez added that after the county has reviewed Stage 3 criteria of the governor’s four-Stage reopening framework, released Friday, “We will be prepared for the reopening of all sectors throughout the county of Riverside.’”

Over the past week, protests sparked by the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned a knee to his neck, have involved hundreds, sometimes thousands of people gathered in communities countywide.

So far, health experts are unclear if the protests will trigger large new outbreaks considering the protests were outside, where infections don’t spread as readily as indoors.

Also, many of the protesters throughout the country were wearing masks, and much of the contact was likely less-hazardous “transient” moments of people moving around, passing each other, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the AP.

On Tuesday morning, the county reported that 119,824 people have been tested, and there have been 9,206 confirmed cases of coronavirus. There are 217 people hospitalized countywide and 63 of those are in intensive care units.

In total, 356 county residents have died from the virus and 5,366 have recovered.

Locally, the county also reported Tuesday that Hemet had the highest number of cases in southwest Riverside County with 295 and 21 deaths. The city of Lake Elsinore had 197 cases with eight deaths, Menifee had 191 cases and six deaths, San Jacinto had 155 cases and six deaths, Murrieta had 138 cases and seven deaths, while Wildomar had 69 cases with four deaths.

As of press time Tuesday, Temecula had 156 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 48 cases, Anza at six, Winchester at one, Valle Vista at 25, Lakeland Village at 44 and East Hemet with 41 cases. Only Lakeland Village had reported that a resident died from the virus.

On Monday, the county announced that it is in line to receive nearly $1 million in coronavirus-related humanitarian funding provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency under a long-standing relief program.

FEMA said a $320 million in Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding will be distributed nationwide. Riverside County’s slice of the government disbursal will be $958,794, according to the program website.

“These funds are for people with non-disaster-related emergencies and can be used for a broad range of services, including mass shelter, mass feeding, food pantries and food banks, payment of one month’s utility bills to prevent loss of services, payment of one month’s rent/mortgage to prevent evictions/foreclosures and transition assistance from (temporary) shelters to stable living conditions,” according to a FEMA statement.

The United Way will administer the relief funds when they’re received, visit http://www.efsp.unitedway.org.

On Tuesday, Spiegel sought her colleagues’ support to establish a $5 million fund earmarked for aid to nonprofits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Spiegel announced her idea for the “Riverside County Nonprofit Assistance Fund” during last week’s board of supervisors’ meeting, but she did not yet have the proposal ready for consideration.

“The nonprofits get cut first. If they don’t have the money in the bank, they can’t be giving it away,” Spiegel said. “They haven’t been able to have their fundraisers, and we need them in our communities. We need to do what we can for them.”

The supervisor was discouraged that not-for-profit entities were not included when the board set up a $45 million Small Business Assistance Grant Program, which is available until June 19.

“Our local nonprofits are now facing significant financial issues stemming from dramatic increases in service provision, loss of revenue and loss of volunteers,” the supervisor wrote in the agenda. “As we work to provide interventions to support our local business community, we must also work to support the nonprofit sector, which has continued to provide invaluable community services during the pandemic.”

City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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