Riverside County health officials Thursday reported seven additional deaths associated with COVID-19 and 97 new infections, bringing the death toll to 235 and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 5,440.

Of the 188 county residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 66 are being treated in intensive care units, one fewer than Wednesday, according to the Riverside University Health System.

More than 600 documented recoveries among county residents have been reported since Sunday, including 224 on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,254.

Nearly 79,000 residents have been tested for the coronavirus, which accounts for more than 3% of the county’s population of nearly 2.5 million.

Riverside County has the second-highest COVID-19 case total and related death toll in the state, behind Los Angeles County. But Health Director Kim Saruwatari said there has been a general two-week “downward trend” of COVID-19 cases documented by hospitals countywide.

On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive plan for advancing the process of removing regulatory hurdles connected to the statewide coronavirus emergency and opening most sectors of the region’s economy faster.

“This is to make Riverside County ready for the next stage of reopening,” Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez said. “This will signal to the state that we’re ready to move on. It provides robust guidance for protecting public health.”

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote formally established the “Readiness & Reopening Framework” as the primary in-progress strategy for creating pathways to expand the number of sectors eligible to restart operations in the face of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-phase deregulation plan.

The 33-page document, drafted by TLMA and other agencies, mirrored some of the same proposals submitted by Supervisor Kevin Jeffries that the board approved last Friday.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Perez said. “This provides the right level of guidance that can be supplemented with state guidance. It hits those notes well.”

The plan was broached during Friday’s nearly seven-hour hearing on the rollback of local health directives issued by the county Public Health Officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser. That hearing, and another one three days earlier, resulted in the bulk of Kaiser’s health orders being rescinded, and the county aligning with the state’s mandates.

The Readiness & Reopening Framework’s goal focuses on expediting the removal of closures impacting all of the county’s businesses, as well as churches and other entities.

Last week, Newsom said the state is generally in phase two of his reopening format, permitting manufacturers, warehouses and some retailers to resume business, with safeguards. However, steeper requirements are preventing counties from moving into the latter stage of phase two and beyond, allowing more private sector activity.

Chief among the requirements is confirmation that no county documents a coronavirus-related death in a 14-day period. All of Riverside County’s supervisors agreed Friday that such a requirement was asking too much.

Residents under age 18 make up about 25% of the county’s population, but that age bracket accounts for just 6.6% of the testing appointments at the county’s coronavirus testing sites, local officials say. They are urging more members of that group, especially teenagers, to get tested.

All Riverside County residents — whether they are suffering from coronavirus symptoms or not — can now get tested at a variety of testing locations, including eight funded by the state that opened last week countywide. To get tested at these sites, which include Mecca, Norco, Desert Hot Springs and Hemet, appointments must be made at lhi.care/covidtesting.

Four drive-up testing sites run by county public health officials in Perris, Indio, Riverside and Lake Elsinore remain operational, which can be accessed if an appointment is made by calling 800-945-6171.

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