Supervisors tell Newsom, it’s time to reopen Riverside County

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A medical technician readies to administer a COVID-19 test at the Lake Elsinore testing facility at Storm Stadium. Valley News/Shane Gibson file photo

One day after Riverside County Supervisors issued notice to Governor Gavin Newsom of the desire to reopen, the Riverside County Medical Association issued a statement highly recommending residents and businesses continue to practice social distancing and wear masks.

The association issued a press release Friday, May 15, saying “Even though current evidence shows progress in suppressing the virus, there is much to consider for the future of Riverside County to protect against a surge now that Riverside County has lifted the health order requiring face coverings and 6-foot social distancing. RCMA, representing 1,800 physicians, medical residents and medical students, highly recommends the pubic continue the practice of wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing while out in the community and to stay at home if at all possible.”

On Thursday, May 14, the board of supervisors sent a letter to state officials requesting the county be allowed to take the next step in the direction of loosening restrictions and opening up more segments of business within the county.

“Riverside County has notified Gov. Gavin Newsom that it is ready to cautiously and safely open for business based on public health data,” according to a press release. “Riverside County supervisors said the county has the ability to ‘meet, exceed or plan to achieve’ six of the seven criteria described by the governor to accelerate through the current Stage 2 of the economic expansion plan into the next level.

“Among the criteria, the county has a plan to protect Stage 1 essential workers; created ample testing capacity; demonstrated the ability to protect vulnerable populations; developed a plan to expand contact tracing capabilities and exceeded a minimum of 35% surge capacity in the county’s health system,” the county said in the news release.

The supervisors voiced opposition to the requirement that there be no COVID-19 death for a 14-day period for some time now, saying in the letter, “In our opinion, the metrics are unrealistic for urban counties, and Riverside County in particular, where our geographic size and population make it impossible that no COVID-19 death would take place during the 14-day period.”

Instead, the supervisors urged Newsom to allow them to adopt federally epidemiology benchmarks, which they said they are already hitting.

“With a team of full-time epidemiologists and the ability for consistent, real-time epidemiological surveillance, the county of Riverside is better able to identify early triggers, areas for rapid intervention and provide timely contact tracing, as well as testing,” according to the letter from the county.

The board’s letter to Newsom and state officials can be read at https://www.rivcoph.org/Portals/0/Documents/CoronaVirus/May/GovernorOrders/5.14.20%20County%20of%20Riverside%20Reopening%20Plan.pdf?ver=2020-05-15-160704-617&timestamp=1589584051424.

On Monday, May 18, Newsom announced a relaxation of restrictions that could allow more businesses to reopen more quickly in a majority of the state’s counties.

Newsom also said Monday that if the current trends continue, the state may be able to significantly ease restrictions statewide 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.

There was no word on which counties Newsom was referring to at press time.

The number of documented coronavirus infections in Riverside County stood at 5,952 Monday night with 261 deaths and 3,833 documented recoveries.

According to the Riverside University Health System, 334 new infections and 19 fatalities were reported over the weekend.

Dr. Geoffrey Leung of Riverside University Health System said Friday, May 15, during a livestreamed news conference that cases locally “are really slowing down.”

“The positivity rate (from tests) has dropped and compared to two or three weeks ago … the trend line is moving downward for coronavirus-related deaths,” he said.

Leung also cautioned that while caseloads have flattened, COVID-19 diagnoses are still occurring daily. However, data show hospitalizations countywide have dropped by one-fifth compared to three weeks ago.

As of Monday evening, more than 85,000 Riverside County residents have been tested for the coronavirus of the county’s population of nearly 2.5 million.

Locally, the county reported Tuesday night, May 19, that Hemet had the highest number of cases in southwest Riverside County with 236 and 17 deaths. The city of Lake Elsinore had 141 cases with eight deaths.

As of press time, Temecula had 127 cases and Canyon Lake reported 12. Neither cities reported any deaths.

Murrieta had 111 cases and five deaths. Menifee had 137, San Jacinto had 104 and Wildomar had 68 cases with each city reporting that four people had died from the virus.

The county reported number totals for unincorporated areas including French Valley at 42 cases, Anza at six, Winchester at one, Valle Vista at 13, Lakeland Village at 35 and East Hemet with 20 cases. Only Lakeland Village had reported that a resident died from the virus.

The county currently operates drive-up testing sites in Indio, Perris, Riverside and Lake Elsinore. Appointments are required, along with parent permission for minors.

To make an appointment, call 800-945-6171.

Appointments are also required at the eight state-operated walk-up testing sites which include Hemet, Norco, Perris, Mecca and Desert Hot Springs. Visit https://lhi.care/covidtesting or call 888-634-1123 to book an appointment at those facilities.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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