As Riverside County residents began adjusting to a new order to cover their faces when leaving their homes, public health officials announced Sunday that at least 30 residents and some staff members at a skilled nursing facility have tested positive for coronavirus.
Officials did not yet know the exact number of patients and staff who were positive for the virus, but they were investigating how many others at the Magnolia Avenue location of Extended Care Hospital are infected.
The 90-bed facility in Riverside is currently closed to new patients. Additionally, staff are not allowed to work at other nursing facilities, sick patients are isolated and all are being closely monitored, Riverside County public health officer Cameron Kaiser said in a statement.
“We will be seeing more and more of these outbreaks in the community,” Kaiser said. “This is a vulnerable population and we’ll take all the steps necessary to protect them. But these steps can only work effectively if people stay home, stay apart, and cover up their faces in public to reduce overall transmission.”
Riverside County health officials reported 799 cases and 19 deaths, as of Sunday evening. In neighboring San Bernardino County, health officials reported 372 cases and 13 deaths as of Sunday evening. In Imperial County, health officials reported two new positive tests Sunday, bringing the countywide total to 57 cases and two deaths.
Trent Evans, Extended Care general counsel, said the facility has been working closely with an infectious disease specialist to ensure it will have proper infection control protection.
The announcement came on the heels of Kaiser’s order Saturday for residents to wear face coverings in public, and people began taking to social media to share photos of individuals wearing everything from cardboard boxes to plastic bags.
County officials, however, say cloth coverings are preferred.
A fabric covering is able to be washed at the end of each day whereas a paper mask would have to be discarded after each use, said Riverside County spokesperson Jose Arballo.
In response to the continual climb in cases, Riverside County health officials are also discouraging people from clustering at hiking trailheads. Arballo said county officials would prefer that individuals do not leave their homes, even for a jog around the block, but will not arrest people for doing so.
“Joggers and hikers need to wear face coverings when they go out as well,” Arballo said. “But really we would prefer they stay home.”
This directive comes as a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, under the right conditions, liquid droplets from sneezes, coughs and just exhaling can travel more than 26 feet and linger in the air for minutes — four times further than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 6-foot rule.
Author Lydia Bourouiba, who specializes in fluid dynamics and is an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the study shows that the greatest risk is still for health care workers working with infected patients.
More: Coronavirus in Coachella Valley: Cases so far
More: How to make your own face mask to help stop the spread of the coronavirus
More: Isolated but at risk: Slab City confronts the specter of coronavirus
Riverside County park, trail lots closed
All Riverside County park and trail parking lots are closed under public health officials’ latest order.
It indicates that trails are to be accessible by only those lots within walking distance, but it doesn’t specify if roadside parking is discouraged at trailheads that are directly accessible from streets and don’t have parking lots. It also doesn’t specify if people need to park a certain distance from these trailheads.
In Palm Springs, for example, the South Lykken Trailhead is on South Palm Canyon Drive and vehicles often line the street.
The order was only issued over the weekend, and Palm Springs City Manager David Ready said it will likely be the subject of discussion among city leaders.
“One could surmise the county’s order is to discourage gatherings at trailheads, so I believe that’s what we would be trying to enforce,” he said. “The key thing here is having everyone voluntarily comply with what the intent of the county’s order is.”
The Desert Sun reached out to county officials for clarification.
The order also adds government entities will be tasked with enforcing social distancing in parks and trails, and failure to do so will result in their full closures.
The order specifies parks and trails “shall be used solely for walking, hiking, equestrian or bicycle riding. The public shall not congregate or participate in group sporting activities at such parks and/or trails.”
Updates on cases in Riverside County
Riverside County health officials on Sunday reported 134 new coronavirus cases and one additional virus-related deaths.
The county now has 799 cases and 19 deaths. Sixty people have recovered, officials said.
- Cathedral City: 21 cases and 1 death
- Coachella: 21 cases and 0 deaths
- Desert Hot Springs: 7 cases and 0 deaths
- Indian Wells: 8 cases and 0 deaths
- Indio: 44 cases and 2 deaths
- La Quinta: 22 cases and 0 deaths
- Palm Desert: 42 cases and 2 death
- Palm Springs: 48 cases and 5 deaths
- Rancho Mirage: 18 cases and 2 deaths
- California: 13,438 positive cases and 319 deaths as of Saturday, according to state of California figures, which are tallied separately from the county.
The number of COVID-19 positive cases in San Bernardino County increased to 372 on Saturday, up from 353 the day prior. The death toll remained at 13. The total number of cases in Imperial County is 55, an increase of three from the day before. There has been one death in the county that was previously reported.
Property tax deadline remains April 10,
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, the property tax deadline for Californians will remain April 10 as planned.
Property taxes account for about half of Riverside County’s discretionary revenue. In the 2018-019 fiscal year, the county collected $408 million in property taxes.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) and the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors stressed that counties needed property tax revenue to remain afloat as the COVID-19 pandemic put unprecedented strain on the resources they provide, including healthcare, emergency response and homelessness relief.
“Any delay in payments beyond the April 10 property tax deadline, for individuals or businesses that can pay, will tip local governments into insolvency at a time when our residents need us the most,” the two lobbying groups wrote. “Delaying the April 10 property tax payment would take tens of billions of dollars away from local government, create cash flow problems, and cause some to default on their loans, which would have significant long‐term effects on all local agencies in California.”
Local businesses are feeling the heat from the approaching deadline.
Matt Bousquette, a landlord who owns five commercial properties in downtown Palm Springs, said most of his revenue has already dried up after tenants did not pay 85% of their usual rent. Some, he said, already told him they don’t expect to reopen once the crisis has passed.
With revenue severely down, he said he has had to stop paying contractors his business usually hires, from gardeners to pest control companies.
“I have just stacks of bills, and I’m trying to figure out who to pay something to,” Bousquette said.
He questioned why various levels of government have paused so many bills and taxes but not this one.
“They’re looking for a backstop, and God knows why they’ve chosen the local landlords as a backstop,” he said.
Empty churches for Palm Sunday, even for the pope
Christian churches around the world were mostly empty or nearly so for Palm Sunday services. Pope Francis celebrated a service at St. Peter’s Basilica in front of a few aides, prelates and nuns scattered at social distancing intervals. St. Peter’s Square, which normally would be packed with tens of thousands of the faithful armed with palm fronds for the event, was virtually deserted. “The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less,” Francis said in his homily.
Palm Sunday, which falls one week before Easter, marks the ceremonial entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem before a palm-waving crowd. In Jerusalem, a traditional procession from the Mount of Olives into the city that normally draws thousands was limited to small group of religious leaders.
Coming week expected to hit nation hard
COVID-19 has been blamed for almost 5,000 American deaths in the last week, but Surgeon General Jerome Adams says this week will be worse.
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” Adams said on Fox News Sunday.
But Adams also noted that Spain and Italy began intensive mitigation efforts about a month ago, and that the U.S. was not far behind. Those countries are now starting to see a slowdown in cases, Adams said. In the U.S., Washington state and California are seeing indications that the crisis is leveling off, he said.
“As hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days,” Adams said.
Adams and other public health officials urged Americans to practice social distancing and to wear masks in public places.
There were more than 321,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Sunday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard, while the nation’s death toll stood at over 9,100. A week ago there were less than 125,000 cases and 2,200 had died.
Worldwide, the death toll surpassed 67,000 on Sunday, and more than 1.2 million people had been infected.
USA Today contributed to this report.