COVID-19: New tier system in place, hospitalizations continue to decrease

Health care workers conduct coronavirus testing at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore managed and operated by Riverside University Health System Public Health Department. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled in a news conference Friday, Aug. 28, a new blueprint for business sector reopenings that includes a color-coded, tiered system that will now use spread rate and test positive percentage to gauge whether a county would be allowed to reopen more businesses.

Newsom said the new system will be simple, slower and steady. It’s aimed at preventing a surge in infections, like the one between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, as the state began reopening the first time around. The surge prompted Newsom to shut down bars, restaurants for indoor dining and a slew of other businesses about two months ago.

“We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time,” Newsom said.

Not everyone was thrilled with the announcement of the new system.

“Just as the county was achieving strong reductions at hospitals and ICU beds, the entire ‘bend the curve’ program is tossed aside, and we are placed in a new program more restrictive program,” Kevin Jeffries, Riverside County District 1 supervisor, said Friday. “It’s extremely disappointing to watch the goalposts being moved further away by the state.”

Currently, Riverside County is in the purple tier, which reflects a widespread impact of COVID-19, and almost 90% of California counties are at that level. If the county improves its numbers, it would then move into red (substantial), then orange (moderate) and finally yellow (minimal) with the lowest restrictions.

In a news release issued by Riverside County Friday evening, officials said the county’s numbers are trending “in the right direction.”

“Our businesses have adapted to all these restrictions in some very innovative and thoughtful ways, including moving outside,” Karen Spiegel, vice chair and District 2 supervisor, said in a statement. “Some of our businesses can now return to indoor operations, with safeguards in place. Businesses must continue to invest in protecting their employees and customers, as these measures help slow the spread and support economic recovery.”

According to the new system, malls may reopen in the purple tier at roughly 25% capacity. Hair salons and barbershops can reopen fully Monday.

According to the county, “Counties must remain at each tier for a minimum of 21 days. The state’s new website will track the metrics, show an interactive map and list business sectors open by each county.”

California has the most confirmed virus cases in the nation, with nearly 700,000, and the third-most deaths – 12,550. But since the closures last month, the average number of daily cases has been falling along with the infection rate and hospitalizations, which peaked at 7,170 July 21 and since dropped to about 4,300.

The county also said the school waiver process will not be impacted by the new system, and schools can reopen fully and without a waiver when the county is within the red tier for a minimum of two weeks.

Riverside County Public Health officials Monday, Aug. 31, reported 1,049 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths since Friday, bringing the total number of cases within the county to 52,277 since the county began recording data.

Day by day, the county reported 417 new cases Saturday, 327 on Sunday and 305 on Monday.

The total number of people who have died from the coronavirus since the county began now sits at 1,019. On Saturday, the county reported nine deaths Saturday, one on Sunday and two on Monday.

There were 13 fewer people hospitalized with the virus since Friday, for a new total of 210 hospitalizations. The county reported 73 of those patients were in intensive care units, 11 less than before the weekend started.

Overall, 43,387 people have recovered from the virus, 2,174 more than the Friday before, the county has tested 522,708 residents for the virus, 15,992 more over the weekend.

The county reported that there were 385 confirmed cases in county jails and another 1,715 cases recorded in state prisons within the county. Prisons have experienced significant case growth in the past week.

Locally, Temecula added 19 cases (947), Murrieta added 15 (1,059), Wildomar added three (513), Lake Elsinore added 17 (1,110), Canyon Lake added two (86), Menifee added 46 (1,265), Hemet added 39 (1,557) and San Jacinto added 14 (1,033).

In local communities, Anza added no new cases (12), East Hemet added three (299), French Valley added eight (289), Lakeland Village added four (202), Valle Vista added 10 (212) and Winchester added no new cases (19).

Temecula added no new deaths over the weekend and, to date, nine people have died from the virus in the city. There have been 21 deaths from Murrieta, 14 from Wildomar, 18 from Lake Elsinore, one from Canyon Lake, 17 from Menifee, 50 from Hemet, 21 from San Jacinto, none from Anza, five from East Hemet, one from French Valley, one from Lakeland Village, four from Valle Vista and none from Winchester.

The number of known active cases countywide is 8,503, a decline of 1,137 since last week. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total – 52,909 – according to the county executive office.

According to Kim Saruwatari, director of Department of Public Health, nearly two-thirds of all deaths coded as COVID-19 have been correlated to underlying conditions, principally chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease.

The doubling time – or the number of days in which documented virus cases increase 100% – is 45 days in Riverside County. A doubling rate of seven days is reason for alarm, while expanding doubling times point to moderation or gradual success in virus containment, according to health officials.

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

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at