Riverside County moves into red tier, supervisors push for more

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Health care workers conduct tests at the state run COVID-19 testing location at the Grace Mellman Community Library in Temecula. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Riverside County moved into the red tier of the state’s reopening plan, Thursday, Sept. 24, which according to the county, paved the way for more businesses and community places to resume indoor operations.

With the new orders, personal care services including nail salons, tattoo shops, massage and esthetician services could once again move indoors, joining hair salons and barber shops.

Restaurants, churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums were also permitted to resume indoor operations at 25% capacity, gyms at 10% and indoor shopping malls up to 50%.

“Now that Riverside County is in the red tier, more of our local businesses that have been badly hurting throughout this pandemic can return indoors,” Karen Spiegel, vice chair of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, said. “As we continue our focus to slow and contain this virus, we must also focus on the recovery of our whole community. Reaching the red tier is an important step toward getting there.”

During the Tuesday, Sept. 22, meeting of the supervisors a proposal by Jeff Hewitt, 5th District supervisor, was approved by 3-2 vote to consider more options for reopening all businesses.

The plan would push forward an accelerated public health deregulation plan to allow all businesses, houses of worship and other entities in Riverside County to fully reopen over the next six weeks, holding off on immediate action to determine how the state will respond.
“This is a way of saying we’re for the people of Riverside County,” Hewitt said of his plan.

“We’re going to be operating in an economy that’s going to be crushed. We need to move forward on this and stop putting it off.”

Kevin Jeffries, 1st District supervisor, and Spiegel both said they were behind Hewitt’s concept, but before a final vote, they requested input from the Riverside County Business Task Force and an in-depth assessment by the Executive Office of what funds Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration might withhold or demand to be returned to the state.

County CEO George Johnson indicated that as much as $656 million could be in jeopardy, including $63 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money recently distributed to the county, but he acknowledged that was a loose estimate.

“Fear is a four-letter word. How dare you do this, George,” the supervisor said. “You think the governor is going to come and reclaim the money? Every month we’re down, how much gross domestic product is this county losing? How many millions of dollars are families not bringing home? You think the governor is going to change his mind on a whim? We’re staying within his parameters anyway.”

Chuck Washington, 3rd District supervisor, said he preferred a more cautious approach in line with the state’s system, and board chair V. Manuel Perez agreed, saying he preferred to “stay the course.”

They cast dissenting votes in the motion to redraft and reconsider Hewitt’s plan Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Valley News reached out to Washington for further comment, but he declined.

On Friday, Riverside University Health System reported 295 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths throughout the county. In all, 58,178 have tested positive for the virus and 1,189 people have died since the county began recording data back in early March.

There were 142 patients hospitalized countywide for treatment of the virus and 39 patients in intensive care units.

The number of known active cases countywide is now 3,580 and the active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the total number of cases according to the County Executive Office.

The number of verified patient recoveries is now up to 53,409 countywide.

There were 428 confirmed cases in county jails and another 2,284 cases recorded in state prisons within the county.

According to the county, Friday, the current adjusted case rate was 6.7 and the positivity rate was 5.8%. Both numbers are provided by the state.

Locally, Temecula has reported 1,078 confirmed cases, 14 deaths and 988 recoveries; Murrieta 1,225/21/1,111; Wildomar 561/14/515; Lake Elsinore 1,224/21/1,160; Canyon Lake 109/2/97; Menifee 1,494/34/1,328; Hemet 1,679/61/1,530; San Jacinto 1,129/25/1,049; Anza 14/0/13; East Hemet 345/7/313; French Valley 330/1/306; Lakeland Village 212/2/203; Valle Vista 228/5/218; and Winchester 20/0/19.

For more Riverside County COVID-19 information, visit http://www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

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