Officials announced Friday that Riverside County was given state permission to move more quickly to reopen its economy.
The county joins 43 others in moving into accelerated Stage 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan, which allows malls, swap meets and dine-in restaurants to resume operations.
So far, the only other Southern California counties given approval to reopen faster are Ventura and San Diego.
“This is a huge success for the county and our local businesses, and a huge success for our communities,” Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chair V. Manuel Perez said, made possible by the sacrifices everyone made.
But, he added, social distancing efforts must be maintained to ensure the county stays on the right track.
“The fact of the matter is that this virus is still out there,” Perez said. “The more we could do to reduce the amount of cases, the better it will be for our health, our communities and our economy.”
Businesses that reopen will be responsible for implementing standards to protect workers and customers, and the county won’t be doing inspections to ensure compliance with public health orders, board co-chair Karen Spiegel said.
“We hope that you do the measures that are necessary for you to offer safe opportunities for your customers,” she said. She added that businesses could still have their licenses revoked if state regulators come in.
In Los Angeles County, local inspectors visited 1,600 businesses and found more than 1,000 were not in compliance with public health directives. The county then worked with the businesses to implement the measures.
As of Friday, Riverside County had confirmed 6,464 cases of COVID-19, resulting in 290 deaths.
That’s the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in California, after Los Angeles County. But public health officials say the majority of those sickened in Riverside County — nearly 4,200 people — have recovered.
Counties are allowed to move forward in the governor’s four-phase plan when they can show the region’s hospitalizations and rate of spread have stabilized, with sufficient testing and contact tracing in place. About a quarter of the state’s 58 counties haven’t moved into accelerated reopening, largely in the Bay Area and Southern California.
Dr. Geoffrey Leung of Riverside University Health said the county’s hospitalizations have been steady over time, and about 4% of people screened have been testing positive. The state requires fewer than 8% of people test positive in the past week for accelerated reopening.
But Leung said he is concerned about a trend for fewer people getting tested amid reopening, saying the rate has slowed significantly in the past week.
“We want you to think of this as a health habit, just like brushing your teeth, washing your hands, keeping a safe distance,” he said. “Testing is also a health habit that can not only keep ourselves healthy, but keep our community healthy.”
Everyone is encouraged to get tested, especially school-age children. Leung said they aren’t currently well represented in results, and more data will be needed to prepare for the upcoming academic year.
Anyone can get screen for free at on of the 14 state- and county-run sites across the county — including those with no symptoms of the respiratory illness. Another two testing locations will open Tuesday in Corona and San Jacinto, while one state-sponsored site at Mead Valley will be move to Temecula, Leung said.
The locations have the capacity to test 4,200 people a day, but are completing only about half of that — meaning people can easily get a same or next-day appointment, according to Leung. He did not say how long it takes for people to get their results.