Riverside County is making gains toward the goal of “herd immunity” against coronavirus, as reflected by data, but the virus is still a threat, and precautionary measures remain a priority, health officials told the Board of Supervisors.

“We are in a better place today than we were several months ago,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung said Tuesday. “We do believe many people have had COVID, and they now have some natural immunity.”

Leung continued to voice the Riverside University Health System’s preference for the majority of residents to be vaccinated, saying that a person who gets a coronavirus infection even after being immunized is “less likely to pass that on to somebody else.”

The doctor’s statement followed observations by Supervisor Jeff Hewitt that the county appeared to be “closing in on that magical 80% of herd immunity (in the local population),” stemming from people developing their own antibodies after COVID-19 exposure or receiving a SARS-Cov-2 vaccination.

“If we can reach that (80%) going forward, we can start pushing the rest of the virus out,” the supervisor said.

Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari told the board that 1.3 million vaccine doses have been administered since December. That has resulted in roughly 70% of residents 65 years and older — who are at the highest risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19 — being immunized, she said.

“We have delivered more doses than most countries,” Leung added.

He and Saruwatari encouraged residents to take part in an online survey providing feedback on whether they believe vaccination is right for them, or what concerns they may have about it. It can be accessed via elucd.typeform.com/to/cSn76Wwf#latitude=xxxxx&longitude=xxxxx&source=xxxxx.

According to Saruwatari, the county’s coronavirus positivity rate is unchanged this week at 2%, and the state-adjusted case rate is 3.6 per 100,000 people, which reflects a rolling seven-day average. Last week, it was 3.5 per 100,000.

According to RUHS, 95 people diagnosed with coronavirus are in hospitals countywide, five more than Monday, and that includes 22 intensive care unit patients, up two from a day ago.

The aggregate number of COVID cases recorded since the public health documentation period began in March 2020 is 296,801, up 166 from Monday.

Officials said a total 4,504 deaths from virus-related complications have been recorded in the last year. On Monday, the number was 4,492.

The number of known active virus cases countywide is 2,249, up 91. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total — 296,801 — according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are at 290,048.

More county businesses were able to open Wednesday amid lighter restrictions due to the county entering the orange tier of the state’s public health regulatory system.

The county had been in the red tier of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” framework since March 16, after five months in the most-restrictive purple tier.

According to the California Department of Public Health, orange criteria permit retail businesses to fully open, while 50% attendance caps are supposed to be observed in restaurants, museums, movie theaters and zoos. The guidelines call for gyms, wineries and bars to maintain 25% caps.

Beginning Thursday, receptions and conferences can be held with up to 150 attendees, on the condition that they, at minimum, be tested for coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last Tuesday that the target date for an end to all restrictions on businesses, gatherings and recreation throughout the state is June 15 — provided there are no signs of a backward slide.

The county’s metrics are squarely in the orange qualifier, but still just outside the parameters set for yellow tier status, which represents “minimal” presence of the virus.

Of the three brands of vaccinations available countywide — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer — the J&J product has been temporarily suspended, Leung told the board, because of recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention findings of possible deadly blood clots developing post-vaccination.

RUHS will await further federal guidance before deciding whether to lift the suspension. Leung said the other products are still available.

The portal to make an appointment for vaccinations 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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