Two residents of western Riverside County were diagnosed with novel coronavirus — the first known cases outside the Coachella Valley — but both appear to be on the road to recovery Tuesday, according to health officials.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser confirmed the COVID-19 infections, saying that the surfacing of “west county cases was an inevitability.”
The identities of the patients were not disclosed, nor was any information released about how they may have acquired the virus. They’re expected to recover, according to the county Department of Public Health.
During the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday morning, Kaiser announced that a third patient in the county had died from complications related to COVID-19. No other details were provided. The other two deaths were disclosed on Monday. All were Coachella Valley residents.
Kaiser also extended his prior directive regarding crowd sizes, mandating that no more than 10 people gather at any once place, at any given time, with a few exceptions, until at least April 30.
The order, which Kaiser was empowered to enact under a board-authorized local health emergency declared on March 10, further mandates the closure of all public and private learning institutions — including colleges and universities — until April 30. The health officer’s prior order was due to expire on April 3.
“Community spread is imminent without immediate intervention,” Kaiser told the board. “We have to make interventions stick in order to break the cycle of contagion so COVID-19 does not overwhelm our hospital capacity.”
Last week, Kaiser directed that gatherings anywhere within the county be limited to 250 or less. That had the immediate effect of forcing cancellations of numerous events at entertainment and other venues.
On Monday, Kaiser changed the order, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to cap gatherings at 10. He emphasized that restaurants, bars and other dining spaces are included in the restriction and should now focus operations on takeout services.
He also reiterated that houses of worship, weddings and sporting events are included in the prohibition, though grocery stores, homeless shelters and daycare centers are exempt from the rule.
As to the exact number of infections recorded, Kaiser cited the number 16, though he acknowledged not hearing about COVID-19 patients admitted to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, where Dr. Richard Loftus said he was treating new cases.
Loftus was invited to speak via telephone by board Chairman Manuel Perez, and the virologist predicted that before the end of this month, the probability was high that at least 10 coronavirus-related deaths would occur in the Coachella Valley.
The physician described the area’s senior population as “kindling for the virus,”
“We’re going to run out of COVID beds,” he said, comparing the virus to vulnerable communities being hit by a wave of “radiation.”
Kaiser’s schools directive was preceded by orders canceling the popular Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, both of which have been rescheduled to October.
The city of Palm Desert on Tuesday declared a local emergency related to the virus, shuttering City Hall and other municipal buildings, while the Riverside City Council affirmed a modified citywide emergency.
Under the declaration approved during a special afternoon session, the council affirmed City Manager Al Zelinka’s emergency order closing all non-essential municipal buildings, including City Hall, until March 23.
However, the council amended part of the order, permitting restaurants to remain open with limitations on capacity, while bars must be closed until March 31.
The city of Indio declared a municipal health emergency Monday, structuring it according to guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health, and the city of Corona followed suit, closing all non-essential facilities, including City Hall, without a definite date for reopening.
Over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked for seniors and people in compromised health to self-isolate at home wherever possible to reduce exposure risks. The governor also directed bars, wineries and nightclubs to reduce services.
Also over the weekend, Palm Springs City Manager David Ready declared a municipal health emergency, which the city council amended Tuesday, mandating that all bars, cannabis lounges, gyms, nightclubs and breweries close, while placing restrictions on access to public facilities.
In Moreno Valley, officials announced postponement of all municipal events until at least the end of May, and participatory gatherings at City Hall, the Senior Center, Main and Mall libraries were not permitted. However, the facilities remain open, and services are available to individuals, officials said.
Some businesses shuttered without any prompts from authorities. The Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula closed Monday, and Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro said operations would be discontinued until the end of the month, with employees still receiving salary and benefits.
All events at the Fox Performing Arts Center in downtown Riverside have been postponed until further notice, while other theaters were shutting down. Even the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris announced it would be closed for the remainder of March.
Frequent hand washing, social distancing and basic hygiene were emphasized as good precautionary practices against infection.
Viral symptoms include fever, coughing and respiratory distress. A person usually develops the symptoms within two weeks of exposure, according to the CDC.
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