More Coronavirus Testing Is Key To Reopening, RivCo Officials Say

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — More Riverside County residents need to get tested for the coronavirus if they want to see increased reopening of local industry sectors. That was the underlying message Thursday from county health officials. “… increased testing supports moving into the next level of the state’s reopening plan […]

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — More Riverside County residents need to get tested for the coronavirus if they want to see increased reopening of local industry sectors.

That was the underlying message Thursday from county health officials.

“… increased testing supports moving into the next level of the state’s reopening plan … that will allow more businesses, as well as schools and places of worship to reopen indoors,” read a news release from Riverside University Health System – Public Health.

People who don’t show symptoms of the virus may not be inclined to get tested, but they are the ones who could influence the metrics used by the state to determine which counties can reopen.

While several benchmarks are eyed under California’s reopening framework, Riverside County remains in the state’s most restrictive tier because of its higher COVID-19 case rate.

Under the state’s color-coded tiered framework, a COVID-19 case rate of more than seven positive cases per 100,000 population over seven days is too high to support further reopening of the local economy. State data show Riverside County with an 8.6 case rate (per 100,000 population).

“Based on the state’s criteria, increased testing will result in a lower case rate … ,” the RUHS news release stated.

Increased testing can also have an impact on the county’s positivity rate, which is another metric the state uses to determine reopening. In order to move forward, Riverside County’s positivity rate over a seven-day period must be below 8 percent. The county is at 7.8 percent.

California’s color-coded tiered framework. Riverside County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier.

If a lot of residents start getting tested, and their results are negative, that would theoretically push the county’s case and positivity rates down, leading to further reopening. (Read more here about which businesses can reopen when Riverside County moves into the red tier.)

While Riverside County has the ability to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting screened at county and state testing sites in recent weeks, according to RUHS data.

Health officials believe this is partly due to more private providers offering antigen and antibody testing, which is not calculated in the state’s testing metric for active infections, according to the county.

Instead, only results from county- and state-operated testing sites are factored.

“That’s per rules from the state,” said RUHS spokesperson Jose Arballo. “We are actively asking the state to count all antigen tests, both positive and negative results.”

Antigen tests screen for active infection, while an antibody test may detect whether a person has been previously exposed to the virus.

Kim Saruwatari, director of the Riverside University Health System – Public Health, said the county has made a lot of progress in slowing the coronavirus infection rate, but more testing will continue disrupting the spread.

“At the beginning of the pandemic Riverside County led the state in per capita testing,” she said. “We need to pick up our testing again — for both the purpose of isolating the sick and to help us safely reopen more parts of our community.”

Saruwatari said those with and without symptoms are encouraged to get tested, as well as younger people who traditionally have not gotten screened at the same rate as other groups.

“Testing is for everyone, regardless of immigration status or insurance, available for anyone with or without symptoms, and it is free,” said Riverside County Board Chair and Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.

There are 13 testing sites spread throughout Riverside County, both walk-in and drive-up services. To find locations and make an appointment, go online to gettested.ruhealth.org.

County health officials reported Thursday another 133 coronavirus cases and nine additional deaths. The cumulative number of COVID-19 infections recorded since the public health documentation period began in early March now stands at 54,868, along with 1,094 deaths, according to RUHS.

There are now 189 patients hospitalized countywide for treatment of the virus, up four from Wednesday. That figure includes 57 people in intensive care units, or five less than the previous day.

With coronavirus-related public health mandates keeping businesses closed and forcing changes in consumer behavior, the Inland Empire’s business activity plunged 26.5 percent in the second quarter of the year, according to a report released Thursday by the UC Riverside Center for Economic Forecasting.

“The second quarter’s dismal numbers are largely the result of rigid health-mandated closures and restrictions,” according to a statement released by the center, which posts its Inland Empire Business Activity Index on a quarterly basis.

The 26.5 percent downward spiral is an annual comparison, based on commercial trade and spending from the same period in 2019.

“Certain industries are being affected … far more severely than others,” UCR Center for Economic Forecasting Director of Research Adam Fowler said. “Industries that rely heavily on face-to-face interactions, particularly the leisure and hospitality sector, will continue to be especially constrained as long as control of the virus remains elusive.”

Throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties, taxable sales revenue dropped nearly 10 percent between the beginning of April and the end of June, according to the report. The region’s unemployment rate hit unprecedented levels in the current century during that time, peaking at 15 percent in May.

The Inland Empire Business Activity Index revealed an “enormous strain being placed on families with lower incomes, and with parents who work in certain industries,” particularly construction and manufacturing.

“Single-parent households and two-parent households where only one parent works — which respectively make up nearly 25 percent and 28 percent of all households with children in the region — can be at a greater disadvantage because of characteristics surrounding their incomes, work environments and educational backgrounds,” according to the report.

The authors said they are “cautiously optimistic” about a pickup in business activity as 2020 draws to a close.

“Despite the unprecedented declines, the center expects the Inland Empire’s broader economic recovery to find its rhythm during the latter half of this year,” the report stated.

A gradual improvement in conditions can be anticipated because the “shock that set off the crisis” has passed, and “consumers and businesses (are learning) to adjust to the constraints” that are still in place, according to the center.

This article originally appeared on the Temecula Patch

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