Riverside County has reported 173 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, 20 additional virus-related deaths and a 10% decrease in active virus cases stemming from an uptick in verified recoveries.

The aggregate number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the public health documentation period began last March is 290,498, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Riverside University Health System, which has logged 3,849 deaths from virus-related complications since last March.

The fatalities are trailing indicators because of delays processing death certificates.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 9,508, down 1,079 compared to Tuesday. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 290,498 — according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are now at 277,141.

COVID-positive hospitalizations in the county remained at 301 on Wednesday. That figure includes 73 intensive care unit patients.

ICU bed availability countywide is at 12%, still below the 15% threshold that prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Dec. 6 regional stay-at-home order, which was canceled in January. Most ICU patients in the county are not infected with COVID-19, according to RUHS.

Falling coronavirus case rates and other metrics moving in the right direction in Riverside County paved the way for contact sports to resume with safeguards in place this week.

The state-adjusted infection rate of 11.3 per 100,000 residents prompted a removal Tuesday of prohibitions against youth and adult sports, including baseball, football, soccer and water polo. The threshold is 14 per 100,000 residents. Last week, the county was at 16.6 per 100,000. Weekly testing for players and coaches is one of the provisions established by the California Department of Public Health for participation in contact sports. More information is available at www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

On Monday, the Corona-Norco Unified School District commenced in-person classes for students in transitional kindergarten to sixth grade under a waiver authorized by the county and state, based on moderating infection rates. Other school districts are expected to follow in the coming days.

Meanwhile, details regarding the local roll out of the state’s new system of tracking and scheduling vaccines operated by Blue Shield remain limited. Blue Shield was slated to begin handling vaccination efforts first in 10 California counties including Riverside. The process has been underway for a month.

County Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the state has yet to announce a “definitive timeline when the switch will be flipped” regarding Blue Shield’s take over of management from the CDPH.

Vaccination of seniors is a priority, but others who qualify under the CDPH Phase 1 guidelines include hospital workers, first responders, food service workers, teachers and some agricultural workers. Dr. Geoffrey Leung of RUHS said the guidelines will soon be adjusted to include “those who are 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.”

Meanwhile, in a major policy shift, state officials on Wednesday night said they will now devote 40% of available vaccines to people in disadvantaged areas, according to a published report. The Los Angeles Times said that, after 400,000 doses are administered to people in the state’s hardest-hit areas, the state also plans to significantly relax rules for counties to exit the most restrictive tier of the state’s four-level reopening blueprint. The change comes amid continuing evidence that Black and Latino communities are lagging in gaining access to vaccinations.

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

The countywide COVID-19 positivity rate is now 5.8%, down from 7.6% last week, according to RUHS data.

The county is still in the most restrictive purple tier of the governor’s reopening framework, impacting bars, theaters, museums, indoor recreational facilities and wineries — all of which are supposed to remain closed. However wineries, like restaurants, can provide outdoor dining, takeout and delivery.

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