County supervisors declares public health emergency in response to coronavirus

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Riverside County supervisors ratified a local public health emergency declaration Tuesday, March 10, as novel coronavirus cases continued to be reported in the region.

The declaration, which was first announced Sunday, will help shore up funds for emergency services as the county prepares to deal with potentially growing numbers of coronavirus cases.

Three new COVID-19 infections were reported in the county Monday, March 9, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, public health officer of Riverside County, said, bringing the county’s total to six.

Two of the new patients were self-quarantining in their homes, while the third was being treated at a Coachella Valley Hospital.

It’s unclear whether those individuals had been in contact with a person now in isolation at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage receiving treatment for the virus – the county’s first known locally transmitted case.

“It is now considered a case of ‘community spread,’” a Riverside University Health System statement said. “Community spread involves transmission of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It indicates that the virus was not contracted through relevant travel history, or contact to a known case of COVID-19, and suggests that the virus is present in the community.”

The county’s other two cases of novel coronavirus stem from passengers aboard a Diamond Princess cruise who were being treated in Northern California and had not returned to the county since testing positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, test results for a Murrieta Valley High School employee under self-quarantine for coronavirus came back negative Monday, and officials announced classes will resume Wednesday.

“Students and staff under self-quarantine will be notified by Riverside Public Health officially stating that they do not need to take this extra precaution at this time and may return to school Wednesday with all other students,” according to a statement from the Murrieta Valley Unified School District.

The school was shuttered Monday and district officials intended to keep it closed until lab test results on the employee were vetted. The employee, whose name was not released, had traveled to a location where coronavirus was present and returned to work.

As a precaution, the county Department of Public Health issued exclusion letters to 71 students, ordering them to self-quarantine because they may have interacted with the employee.

Parents or guardians of students exhibiting any signs of illness were asked to alert the school district. Coronavirus bears similarities to the flu, including high fever, coughing and respiratory difficulties.

Kaiser urged precautions, particularly for people with underlying conditions, such as seniors who may be in compromised health or HIV carriers.

The doctor said avoiding large gatherings and limiting nonessential travel would be good steps. He also asked individuals who develop suspect symptoms to stay away from others and seek medical attention.

The developments led to the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, which was scheduled to begin this week. The annual tennis tournament is considered the sport’s second-most important event in the United States after the U.S. Open in New York. It may be rescheduled.

It also led to talks regarding the potential cancellation of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Billboard.com reported. The event was scheduled to take place over two weekends next month, between April 10 and April 19, and no decision had been made on whether the event would continue as of press time, but event promoter Goldenvoice was reportedly considering pushing the festival back to October amid concerns that Riverside County officials would pull the event’s permit.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 100,000 coronavirus cases have been documented globally, the vast majority in China, where it originated. Close to 4,000 people have died – most in China, officials said. A little more than 500 infections have been recorded in the United States, two dozen of which have been fatal. By contrast, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been about 20,000 deaths stemming from flu-related complications nationwide since the start of influenza season in September.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.

City News Service contributed to this report.