State approves RivCo request to reopen more businesses

Shopping malls, dine-in restaurants can now open with restrictions

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State officials on Friday approved Riverside County’s request to reopen more businesses, as part of Gov. Newsom’s accelerated phase two.

The county submitted a revised request to move into the next phase of the governor’s five-phase reopening plan based on new criteria announced by Newsom on Monday.

County officials say destination retail stores — including shopping malls and swap meets — as well as dine-in restaurants can reopen, albeit with social distancing restrictions. Officials also say schools can open with modifications, but the local health order prohibiting K-12 schools from opening until June 19 is still in effect.

“This is a huge success for the county and our local businesses that Riverside County was approved for regional variance by the California Department of Public Health,” said Riverside County Board Chair and Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “That means that Riverside County is now in the accelerated stage 2.5 in the state’s reopening plan, and we can safely reopen shopping centers and restaurants for dining in, all with modifications. While we are excited to move into stage 2.5, and we look forward to the state allowing more sectors of the economy to open in the coming days and weeks, I emphasize that we can’t let our guard down when it comes to protecting ourselves and our communities from the coronavirus.”

The governor’s Monday announcement of new reopening criteria followed a letter sent by Riverside County and other Southern California counties to request consideration of criteria to make urban counties eligible for regional variances, and Riverside County officials said shortly after the governor’s Monday announcement that they were confident the county would fit Newsom’s criteria.

Newsom said if current trends continue, the state may significantly ease restrictions in the next few weeks, possibly allowing professional sporting events to resume without spectators and hair salons to reopen in June. Under the newly announced rules, Newsom said roughly 53 of the state’s 58 counties would likely qualify to move deeper into Phase Two of the state’s recovery roadmap, allowing more businesses in those counties to open faster than in other counties. Such openings, however, would be contingent on the impacts of the virus in individual counties, he said.

San Diego County was approved for a relaxation of restrictions on Thursday, followed on Friday by Riverside County.

“Because of the hard work and sacrifices of the community, we have been able to take positive steps and reduce the impact of the epidemic,” said Vice Chair Karen Spiegel, Riverside County supervisor. “The data demonstrates that we are moving in a positive direction and we want to continue that trend. We look forward to reopening our regional economy in a safe and methodical manner.”

The county says businesses are encouraged to implement guidelines available on the county’s website at www.RivCoBiz.org for modifications and other measures to keep customers, clients and employees safe.

Meanwhile, Riverside County health officials on Friday reported 14 fatalities connected to COVID-19, the largest one-day spike in deaths in 2 1/2 weeks, bringing the region’s death toll to 284.

Officials also reported 159 new infections, bringing the case total to 6,343.

Of the 183 county residents hospitalized with COVID-19, 67 are being treated in intensive care units, two fewer than Wednesday, according to the Riverside University Health System.

More than 89,000 Riverside County residents have been tested for the coronavirus, which accounts for more than 3% of the county’s population of nearly 2.5 million.

According to RUHS figures, the number of documented recoveries stands at 4,016.

According to county officials, Riverside County boasts one of the highest per-capita testing rates in California. But the county also has generated the second-highest number of cases and deaths in the state, second only to Los Angeles County, though Dr. Geoffrey Leung of the Riverside University Health System said last Friday during a livestreamed news conference that cases locally “are really slowing down.”

Data show hospitalizations countywide have dropped by one-fifth compared to several weeks ago, but Leung still cautioned that COVID-19 diagnoses are still occurring daily.

All county residents — whether they are suffering from coronavirus symptoms or not — can get tested at a variety of locations, including eight that opened last week with state funding. To be tested at these sites, which include Mecca, Norco, Desert Hot Springs and Hemet, appointments must be made at https://lhi.care/covidtesting.

Four drive-up testing sites run by county public health officials in Perris, Indio, Riverside and Lake Elsinore remain operational and can be accessed if an appointment is made ahead of time. The appointments line is 800-945-6171.

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

City News Service contributed to this report.