Riverside County businesses on Tuesday face the possibility of additional closures if the county’s coronavirus metrics have continued to worsen since last week amid officials encouraging more residents to get tested.
As a result of increased transmission of the virus, Riverside County’s COVID-19 metrics are inching back toward the purple tier, the most strict tier of the state’s color-coded, four-tier reopening plan.
The following businesses would be required to shut down indoor operations if Riverside County regresses into the purple tier, though it is not clear how quickly the closures would be enforced:
- Movie theaters
- Places of worship
- Museums, zoos and aquariums
- Gyms and fitness centers
- Indoor restaurant dining (outdoor operations would still be permitted)
The state announces tier movement on Tuesdays. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday offered a preview of this week’s update, saying “the overwhelming majority” of counties are “moving in the right direction.”
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Forty-two of the state’s 58 counties have progressed beyond the purple tier, he said, and can now offer such things as indoor dining and mall shopping.
But Newsom cautioned that some counties are “teetering” due to the “stubborn” nature of the virus.
Riverside County last week reported a positivity rate of 5% that fell into the red tier, where it currently sits. That was up from the prior week’s 4.7%, which fell into the orange tier and gave residents hope that the county could move forward and businesses could increase occupancy soon.
However, the county’s case rate hit 6.8 positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 people last week, which the state adjusted up to 7.6 based on the county’s lag in testing. Under its new system, the state health department adjusts counties’ case rates based on whether they’re conducting more or fewer than the state’s average number of tests.
The county’s 7.6 case rate falls into the purple tier. If even one of a county’s metrics falls into a more restrictive tier for two weeks in a row, the county must move back to that more restrictive tier, according to state guidelines. This means that Riverside County will likely move back to the purple tier Tuesday unless its metrics improved in the past week.
County officials said they won’t know their latest metrics until Tuesday.
“Our trends have been going in the wrong direction but right now we are waiting to hear from the state,” Riverside County spokesman Jose Arballo said on Monday. “(Moving back to the purple tier) could happen in the coming weeks, but also we could even improve and progress into the orange tier.”
In order to remain stable or keep progressing within the framework, here’s what Riverside County needs to report:
- To stay in the red tier, the county would need to document between four and seven new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a rolling seven-day average, and report a positivity testing rate between 5% to 8%.
- To move to the orange tier, which allows for greater capacity for indoor businesses, the county would need to document fewer than four new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a rolling seven-day average, and report a positivity testing rate between 2% to 4.9% for two weeks.
More testing would help Riverside County
Riverside County’s positivity rate is still is far from falling within the purple tier. To hit that benchmark, it would have to climb back up to at least 8% — something health officials are hoping to avoid by encouraging more people to get tested.
Arballo said the county’s testing rate has dropped dramatically since its peak about three months ago, when it was testing between 4,000 and 5,000 people a day.
Currently, only about 2,000 to 2,500 people are getting tested per day.
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“Testing more people is one thing we can do to improve our metrics because is gives us a more favorable formula for calculating case rate,” Arballo said. “Plus, it also lets us know how far the virus has spread into the community, particularly in regard to asymptomatic people and younger people.”
Last week, the state announced it was testing 216 people per day per 100,000 residents — a rate it would like to see across most counties.Currently, Riverside County is testing about 160 people per day per 100,000 residents.
Free COVID-19 testing popped up by appointment this week at the Palm Springs Convention Center, available through Wednesday, according to the city of Palm Springs.
“The more people who get tested, even if they are seemingly healthy and asymptomatic, the more cases we can identify and stop the spread,” said University of California, Riverside School of Medicine professor Brandon Brown. “Since people who are healthy and without any symptoms can spread the virus, it’s important that healthy people also get tested. If they test positive, they can be isolated, and their close contacts quarantined. This is how we can stop the spread, but we have to identify the cases.”
Hospitalizations down across county, state
While much of the country and European nations are seeing a resurgence, coronavirus indicators in California are near their record lows. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since early April and those in intensive care at their second-lowest level since officials began keeping track in late March. The rate of positive tests has been hovering at 2.6% for two weeks.
State officials plan to release guidance for Halloween on Tuesday, Newsom said.
California has recorded about 850,00 positive tests and has seen more than 16,500 deaths. The number of weekly cases has flattened after a precipitous drop from peak levels during the summer. Average daily deaths have been falling and were at 60 for the most recent seven days.
However, the state is seeing “a slow down in the rate of decrease” in hospitalizations, Newsom said. The same applies in Riverside County.
Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton said last week that virus-related hospitalizations in the region had “stabled off” during the past month. He said the patient count was fluctuating between 120 and 140, although the number jumped by 10 to 145 on Friday. That figure includes 39 intensive care unit patients, one fewer than Thursday.
All COVID-19 hospitalization counts remain at or below levels reported in April.
Where does San Bernardino County stand?
Neighboring San Bernardino County will not move out of the purple tier any time soon. The county reported a positivity rate of 6.4% last week, up from 5.7% the week prior. It also reported 9.2 cases per 100,000 people, adjusted to 9.6. Those numbers are up from 7.2 and 7.7, respectively, from the previous week.
Active cases: The county’s total number of known active coronavirus cases is 1,789. This total is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current confirmed case total of 58,125.
Recoveries: According to the county, 55,350 people have recovered, which is about 95% of its overall cases.
Tests: County health officials on Monday reported that 690,658 coronavirus tests have been conducted — up 5,025 tests from the 685,633 reported on Sunday. The county is urging people to get tested even if they don’t have symptoms.
Currently, there are 16 counties in the purple tier. There are 24 counties in the red tier; 11 counties in the orange tier; and seven counties in the yellow tier.
Desert Sun editor Kristin Scharkey, Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.