Riverside County moves to red tier on state COVID monitoring list, allowing more businesses to reopen

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on a plan that would allow businesses to reopen earlier than allowed by the state.
Riverside County on Tuesday moved from the purple to the red tier on the state's COVID-19 tracking system, which allows more businesses to reopen.

Moving into the less restrictive red tier, which has already been achieved in neighboring Orange County, would allow indoor dining at restaurants, movie theaters and houses of worship to reopen with 25% capacity. Here's what that means for other businesses in the county. Schools could reopen for in-person teaching in two weeks.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to move forward to the next step on a plan that would allow businesses to reopen earlier than allowed by the state. They will return on Oct. 6, when county staff and the economic recovery task force will offer a final version of the plan and clarity on which businesses are in which phases.

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Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt will ask his colleagues to support a proposed two-month plan to lift all public health regulations that have locked down large swaths of the regional economy, resulting in thousands of job losses and other impacts that he said will be felt "for years to come."

The centerpiece standard within the plan is a compromise concession by the governor and California Department of Public Health to set the allowable testing positivity rate at 14%, which the county currently easily meets.

According to the most recent CDPH data, the number of screenings that reflect symptomatic or asymptomatic positive tests for coronavirus countywide is just under 7%.

Hewitt's reopening proposal advocates a three-phase plan with a relatively expeditious timeline, beginning with permitting all dine-in restaurants, houses of worship, indoor offices, personal grooming establishments and shopping malls to open before the end of this week.

The liberation, however, would be structured in accordance with state guidelines, including social distancing requirements, use of facial coverings in closed and crowded spaces and strong sanitation practices by business operators.

"Riverside County will gradually reopen ... in a safe and measured way, with constant consideration of the ability of the local hospital system to handle a surge in COVID-19 positive patients," Hewitt wrote. "The proposed plan is risk-based and allows for evaluation of health outcomes before proceeding through the phases."

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Does the new color coded, 4-tier system for monitoring COVID-19 in California leave you scratching your head? ABC7 breaks down what each tier means.

Under the plan, Phase II of the countywide reopening would begin Oct. 13 and would permit the resumption of wedding receptions and all group events that are capped at 25% capacity, or a 100-person limit, whichever is less.

The county CEO, in consultation with Riverside University Health System staff, would monitor the phase-in to determine whether it's going too fast and posing too many risks, requiring a step back.

Phase III would be designated for Nov. 3, and it would permit the unfettered operation of fitness centers, movie theaters and bars -- with state virus-control standards remaining in place.

Some gyms have remained in business within the county despite the state mandates, at risk of incurring fines and other penalties. Speakers at recent board meetings have referred to cease-and-desist orders being issued by the Office of County Counsel, acting as a state enforcement agent.

Opponents of the ongoing public health lockdowns have emphasized to the board their personal and financial distress, as well as the effects on children's education because of the school closures. Hewitt's plan does not address the state's standards for reopening schools, which are restricted to remote or distance learning, unless they obtain waivers.

The county's COVID-19 patient hospitalization rate has been steadily falling since it peaked in mid-July. County Emergency Management Director Bruce Barton said last week he did not see any indication of the trend reversing anytime soon, though he cautioned that a wave could build if flu season is bad.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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