PAUL J. YOUNG
   City News Service
RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside County’s coronavirus cases stand at 1,350, with 39 deaths, and it appears the growth rate is keeping pace with predictions, but with other parts of the nation documenting a moderation in case counts, there’s a chance the county’s rate of increase might soften in the next several weeks, local health officials said.
“Many of you in the small business community are losing tremendous amounts of money while we’re keeping the community safe,” Riverside University Health System Dr. Michael Mesisca said Friday during a media briefing livestreamed from the County Administrative Center in Riverside.
“We hope to see some progress, but our modeling is still playing out,” he said. “We hear of other places where the positive (infection) rates are coming down, such as New York. We hope to see that here.”
Mesisca said the so-called “doubling rate” in which COVID-19 cases increase 100% every five days is proving accurate countywide, and he maintained the county’s position that a “surge” may yet max out the available hospital bed capacity — roughly 1,500 beds — before the end of the month. However, the doctor stressed that “a million small decisions” by residents would save lives and help arrest the spread of the virus.
“The message this Good Friday and Easter is one of tremendous sacrifice,” he said. “But it’s with purpose. The sacrifice we make today means there’s hope coming tomorrow.”
According to Mesisca, county Department of Public Health researchers are closely monitoring infection and recovery trends, and there’s a possibility the current projection of 65,000 COVID-19 cases by early May countywide will never materialize.
“As we look at the effects (of restrictions on public gatherings and travel beyond the home), we hope to have the numbers come down,” Mesisca said. “Once we have updated data, maybe we’ll start to see a more positive outcome. If we continue to do the (precautionary) steps, there will be a softening of the curve. When public health works, it often seems like an over-reaction. As measures are working, the numbers will start coming down.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Victor Manuel Perez was vehement about the need for ongoing precautions by the public, but stressed that he was aware of the need to “get people back to work.”
“We’re all in this together, and there’s nothing more we want than to make sure we’re taking care of the public health of our communities. We need to do our part,” Perez said. “We want to get people back to work. We’re not at peak yet. The numbers are still growing. We will get you back to work, and we will get there soon.”
The 1,350 COVID-19 cases countywide currently compares to 638 one week ago — a 111% jump. There have been 156 documented recoveries, which Executive Office spokeswoman Brooke Federico defined as patients who have completed their period of isolation and are no longer symptomatic.
Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told reporters that about 17,000 county residents have been tested for COVID-19, though that figure does not incorporate private testings at doctors’ offices and other locations.
She said the newest public testing site will be at the Perris Fairgrounds, starting Tuesday. The operation will be staffed Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be the fourth county drive-thru screening service. The others are at the Southwest Church in Indian Wells, The Diamond in Lake Elsinore and Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside. Appointments to visit any of the sites must be made in advance at 800-945-6171.
“Our goal is to continue to expand testing to determine the number of people impacted by the disease,” Saruwatari said.
Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Matt Jennings noted that today was the deadline for the second installment of property taxes from the previous fiscal year. But he offered the prospect of deferments for “those directly impacted physically and financially” by COVID-19.
“You can make a request for cancellation of penalties,” Jennings said. “If you can demonstrate a health or financial crisis, we will help you.”
He directed property owners to the treasurer’s portal — https://www.countytreasurer.org/ — for further information.
Mesisca also asked healthcare professionals — nurses, doctors, physicians’ assistants, emergency medical technicians — interested in helping relieve the hundreds of exhausted medical workers on the job countywide to consider joining the RUHS team temporarily for care of COVID-19 patients or those at risk.
He said “congregant living facilities,” like the Magnolia Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Riverside, which was evacuated Wednesday, are proving to be hotbeds of COVID-19 activity. Staffing shortages are creating a range of complications, and more healthcare workers are needed to assist the most vulnerable patients.
Anyone interested in applying was urged to visit https://rivcoph.org/coronavirus and click on the volunteer button on the right side of the screen to submit credentials.
Workers will also be needed assist at the second federal field hospital to open in the county, this one inside the shuttered Sears at Arlington and Streeter avenues in Riverside.
National Guard personnel are working with a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services team to prepare the 125-bed facility for opening in the next several weeks. It will be reserved for sub-acute patients only, according to Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton.
He pointed out that the county is making headway with placing homeless individuals who are at risk, with 300 dispossessed persons so far situated in rooms at lodges paid for with county tax revenue.