The Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider nullifying all of the remaining public health orders issued by the county’s public health officer, including the requirement to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Board Chairman Manuel Perez and Supervisor Karen Spiegel are arguing for the abolition of the regulations, with both supervisors stating in documents posted to the board agenda that the impacts of COVID-19 are waning and the need to revive the business sector is paramount.
But the Riverside City Council voted 5-2 Monday to submit a letter to the Board of Supervisors urging caution going forward on the issue of lifting restrictions. The vote came after a special session was convened to gather consensus on Mayor Rusty Bailey’s call for a reduction in measures to permit the private sector to return to normalcy.
“Any business openings will happen responsibly,” the mayor said during the meeting, in which he and council members were transmitting from different locations under social distancing protocols. “We’re in a marathon to recover from this pandemic. We’re all eagerly awaiting to restart Riverside’s economy. We’re in this together.”
The number of cases in the county rose to 4,354 Monday, with 174 new infections reported, according to the Riverside University Health System.
Of the 217 county residents who are hospitalized with COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus — 78 are being treated in intensive care units, the same as Sunday.Riverside County has the second-highest number of confirmed cases and deaths in the state, behind Los Angeles County.
The number of documented recoveries is 1,971, up by 11 from Sunday, officials said.
The county public health officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Wednesday extended the county’s emergency health order mandating social-distancing practices and requiring face coverings for residents when outside their homes. County orders still in effect also include a ban on short-term rentals except in the case of providing emergency shelter for vulnerable people; a limit on playing golf; and school closures.
If a majority of the board votes to rescind the local orders, the county will revert to alignment with only mandates issued by the state, which call on people to remain home as much as possible and allow only so-called “essential” businesses to remain open.
Mayor Bailey said Monday there had been no “surge” in COVID-19 cases, as the county public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, and other Riverside University Health System officials, had predicted in the first half of April, and noted that without a thriving local economy, city finances would continue edging toward dire straits.
The council heard from staff in the city manager’s office, who outlined Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement regarding moving the state’s economy into phase two of a post-coronavirus recovery plan, which will permit some retailers to reopen as early as this week. Florists, sporting goods shops and clothing merchants could be among those outlets that resume operations by Friday, according to officials.
“I believe it’s important that we do everything with caution,” Councilman Andy Melendrez said. “We’re good now, but we do not want to go backwards as we move into phase two. We need to be vigilant and move forward incrementally.”
Councilman Chuck Conder agreed with the mayor that rolling back restrictions on the private sector is vital.
“If people want to be afraid of the big bad bug and stay home, then it’s OK for them to do that,” Conder said. “Fifty percent of us want to go back to work. We don’t believe the hype of COVID-19. But the other side is dictating that we can’t do it. The overwhelming of hospitals didn’t happen. In fact, at Kaiser (Permanente Medical Center), the place is damn near empty. Dr. Kaiser’s prediction of 50,000 infections and 1,000 deaths in the county by April 30 didn’t happen. We’re holding our entire economy hostage. It’s nuts that we aren’t getting our economy back up again.”
The councilman said it should be at the discretion of businesses to decide how to resume operations, and said he was confident they would put appropriate safeguards in place for the benefit of “employees and customers.”
Councilman Jim Perry leaned toward a conservative approach to slackening regulations, agreeing that it was time for “the economy to rebound,” but emphasizing the need to “keep people safe as we transition.”
Melendrez, along with Councilwomen Erin Edwards and Gaby Plascencia, introduced a motion for the council to submit a letter asking the county to take a slow approach to removing virus-related restrictions, and there were five votes in favor, but the exact contents of the letter were not immediately made public.