Riverside County reported a slight reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, as officials announced a looming shift in the county’s vaccination strategy that emphasizes mobile clinics over fixed sites.

According to the Riverside University Health System, 59 people were hospitalized countywide, one fewer than Wednesday. That number includes 11 patients in intensive care units, a drop of two compared to the day before.

Health officials said the aggregate number of coronavirus cases recorded since the public health documentation period began in March 2020 was 300,189, an increase in 63 from Wednesday, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,602.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 1,277, down 60 from Wednesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 300,189 — according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are at 294,310.

Meanwhile, county officials on Thursday signaled a shift in their vaccination strategy aimed at expanding access to mobile clinics while reducing the number of fixed drive-up sites.

“Our mobile teams provide the flexibility that enables us to focus on individual communities or neighborhoods, then move quickly to other areas where there is a need,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung.

The Albert A. Chatigny Sr. Community and Recreation Center in Beaumont will close May 22, and the clinic at Heritage High School in Menifee will shutter May 28.

The Moreno Valley Mall site will stay open as the only county-operated fixed site after the Menifee operation closes its doors. Other fixed sites operated by other entities remain widely available across the county.

The coronavirus positivity rate remains 1.6%, unchanged in the last two weeks, while the state-adjusted case rate is 2.8 per 100,000 people, based on a rolling seven-day average, compared to 2.7 per 100,000 two weeks ago. The statewide average is 3.1 per 100,000, according to county officials.

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health announced that no changes in statewide masking recommendations would be made until June 15, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing masks aren’t necessary, under most circumstances, for people who have been fully vaccinated.

Leung told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that “we would like to align with the CDC,” although Board Chair Karen Spiegel said the county doesn’t intend to oppose the CDPH.

Despite improving metrics, the county has not met the threshold required under the governor’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” framework to move into the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s economic reopening system. The county’s positivity rate now meets that criteria, but the ongoing case rate is required to be 2 per 100,000 or less.

The issue may be moot if restrictions are universally lifted statewide, as planned by Gov. Gavin Newsom barring unforeseen circumstances, on June 15.

The yellow tier designation would raise attendance limits for most businesses.

The county entered the orange tier five weeks ago, removing some operational barriers for private and public entities. The county had been in the red tier since March 16, after five months in the most restrictive purple tier.

Saruwatari said 70% of county residents 65 years and older — those considered most vulnerable to virus-related hospitalization or death — have been partially or fully vaccinated.

There have been 1.9 million vaccine doses administered thus far countywide, according to county data.

The portal to make an appointment for a vaccine at county-run and other sites can be accessed via www.rivcoph.org/COVID-19-Vaccine. Anyone who needs assistance may also call the county’s 211 help line.

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