RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries will ask his colleagues today to support a comprehensive plan for advancing the process of removing regulatory hurdles connected to the statewide coronavirus emergency to open most sectors of the regional economy faster.
“The ‘Readiness & Reopening Framework’ provides a path to reopen our economy with the proper health and safety measures in place,” Jeffries wrote in his 33-page submission, posted to the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday agenda. “This framework recognizes that the health and well-being of our society is vital to developing and supporting thriving communities, dynamic health care services and a strong economy.”
The plan was first introduced, and language was modified, during Friday’s nearly seven-hour hearing on the rollback of local health directives issued by the county Public Health Officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser. That hearing, and another one three days earlier, resulted in the bulk of Kaiser’s health orders being rescinded, and the county aligning with the state’s mandates.
Jeffries’ framework is tailored to the goal of expediting the removal of closures impacting all of the county’s businesses, as well churches and other entities.
The plan notes that the number of daily reports of influenza-like illnesses has been steadily declining over the last month, even though the number of documented COVID-19 infections has been oscillating up and down over seven-day rolling periods.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom specified criteria for jurisdictions to progress through his four-phase reopening format. At this point, the state is generally in phase two, permitting manufacturers, warehouses and some retailers to resume business, with safeguards. However, steeper requirements are preventing counties from moving into the latter stage of phase two and beyond, allowing more private sector activity. Chief among the requirements is confirmation that no county documents a coronavirus-related death in a 14-day period.
All of the supervisors agreed Friday that it was asking too much. Jeffries said he hoped the Readiness & Reopening Framework, if approved, could serve as a model for other large counties in the region, forming a united front to push the governor toward compromise.
The framework contains proposed “best practices,” or measures that can be adopted to demonstrate that the public health system, merchant and business community, long-term care facilities and other operations are situated to manage ongoing virus-related challenges.
The framework notes the preference for physical distancing — keeping people six feet apart in confined spaces — using face coverings and gloves in settings where they’re most advantageous, establishing policies that require employees to remain home when ill and using “environmental controls,” such as partitions or panels, to lessen interactions that pose a risk.
According to the framework, the long-touted “surge” that implied as many as 65,000 infections and 2,000 virus-related fatalities would occur countywide by May 1 did not come close to materializing — but the preparations triggered in response to that prediction put the county in an ideal position to handle future complications stemming from COVID-19.
“Riverside County has either exceeded, met or has a plan in place for all the appropriate federal or state criteria,” Jeffries wrote.
The supervisor said the recently formed Economic Recovery Task Force, which is comprised of business community representatives and county officials, is already engaging private sector entities and reinforcing the positives behind best practices that include the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE — such as face masks and surgical gloves — which Newsom said should be integrated into a number of workplaces.
The supervisor said the governor’s mandate that 1.5 virus screenings per 1,000 residents in each county be conducted was already close to being met, further positioning the county for advancement in phase two.
The county additionally has excess capacity for accommodating homeless individuals who require isolation and quarantine, but it only has about one-third of the “contact tracers” — individuals who follow patients’ cases and identify individuals who might be secondarily at risk — under the governor’s criteria, according to Jeffries.
He said the county’s Skilled Nursing Facilities Outreach Support teams have been working steadfastly assisting nursing homes and other long-term care rehab facilities with instituting protocols to prevent viral spread.
“The state also requires that these facilities have sufficient testing capacity for outbreak investigation,” the supervisor said. “For those facilities that are unable to perform internal testing, there is sufficient demonstrated capacity in the county’s public health laboratory.”
The second half of phase two will permit opening dine-in restaurants, personal grooming establishments, houses of worship and wineries — all with safeguards in place. The third phase will permit theaters, libraries, museums, bars and lounges to open their doors without fear of state penalties, while the final phase will remove barriers to convention centers, sporting venues and concert halls.
The supervisor pointed out that the Readiness & Reopening Framework is not an imposition on businesses, but rather offers a set of guideposts for them to follow.
The more widely it is utilized and promoted, the supervisor hoped, the more inclined the state might be to relaxing measures.