Riverside County has landed on a state watch list for the novel coronavirus following a surge in new cases and hospitalizations from the disease.
The county made the California Department of Public Health list after a spike in new cases and a higher percentage of positive tests for COVID-19. As of Friday, June 19, the county had 103.3 cases per 100,000 residents. The state goal is 100 per 100,000, according to a state database.
The county’s 8.8% positive test rate exceeds the state goal of 8%, while 11.4% of the county’s intensive-care beds are currently available. The state wants at least 20% of ICU beds free.
Riverside County can get off the list if its metrics improve for three days. If it fails to show enough progress in hospitalization and infection rates over a 14-day period, the county could potentially be forced to take more restrictive measures or risk losing a special status that allows county businesses shuttered by the pandemic to reopen more quickly.
To get that status, the county had to meet certain benchmarks for hospital and testing capacity and caseloads. In recent days, the county has set single-day records for new cases and seen a new high in hospitalizations of patients confirmed to have COVID-19.
The county’s placement on the list “means (the state is) monitoring Riverside County’s data and metrics more closely,” county spokeswoman Brooke Federico said via email. “Riverside County public health officials continue to pore over our local data and are happy to discuss at length with the state regarding local contributing factors.”
Federico added: “Riverside County’s cases continue to rise and outpace current projections. This is an expected outcome of reopening as people visit more places in the community.”
“We’ve planned for more cases since the beginning of the pandemic, by increasing our numbers of contact tracers to contain the disease, increasing hospital capacity to treat the sickest patients, taking steps to protect our vulnerable populations and planning for long-term care facilities.”
At this point, there’s no indication that being on the watch list will stop the county’s reopening efforts, Federico added.
An explanation on the state public health website lists “driving factors” behind Riverside County’s numbers, including:
- Outbreaks at state prisons and skilled-nursing facilities in the county
- The possibility of the virus spreading during recent protests. The county, like the rest of the nation, has seen protests over George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, police custody.
- Patients seeking care from Northern Baja California and traveling into the Coachella Valley
- Transfers of COVID-19 patients from Imperial County
While Imperial County residents with the virus aren’t counted against Riverside County’s cases, they are counted against Riverside County’s hospital numbers, Federico said.
Regarding protests as a driving factor, Federico said: “The county understands the community’s right and desire to protest. Recent protests were discussed with the state as one of several potential factors to increased cases. This is due to a number of large events in Riverside County without social distancing.”
She added: “The (virus) incubation period can be between five to 14 days. Information from our contact tracing teams is still coming in.”
As for the state prisoners, Federico said the state recognizes that the county has no control over what goes on in prisons. If the prisoners’ test numbers are taken out, the county’s positive test rate is closer to the state threshold, but still above it, she said.
San Bernardino County made the watch list June 12 but is no longer on it.