All bars ordered to close in Riverside County as COVID-19 cases mount

(Photo by Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Bars throughout Riverside County have been ordered closed by the county's public health officer, dovetailing with an action taken by the governor over the weekend, as the number of known active coronavirus cases countywide increased by 705, and the number of deaths tied to the virus edged up by two.

After Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday directed that public drinking establishments in seven counties, including Imperial County to the south, be shuttered amid rising COVID-19 infections, Riverside County officials reviewed the California Department of Public Health's recommendations for closures, culminating in Dr. Cameron Kaiser's order to close bars countywide.

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Kaiser did not cite specific data indicating that exposure risks were greater in drinking establishments but said that "people don't social-distance well after a couple of drinks."

Since Friday, the number of known active COVID-19 cases has expanded
from 7,822 to 8,527, and the number of deaths stemming from complications related to the virus edged up from 438 to 440, according to the Riverside University Health System. Officials said last week the active case count is obtained by discounting deaths and patient recoveries from the aggregate infection number.

Since early March, a total 16,634 coronavirus cases have been documented, according to RUHS. In that time, 7,667 people have recovered from the virus, exhibiting no symptoms after 14 days.

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RUHS officials said about 60% of the county's hospital beds are filled, and 365 COVID-19 patients are occupying them, including 106 in intensive care units. There are 3,560 hospital beds available at more than a dozen medical facilities countywide.

The county's coronavirus testing positivity rate over the past week was 10.6%, which is higher than the state's 8% standard.

Bars in the region were allowed to reopen on June 12, with safety protocols in place. The California Department of Public Health guidance released over the weekend states that "public health professionals within California and throughout the nation have identified bars as the highest risk sector of non-essential businesses currently open. Beyond the higher risk of transmission in bar settings, contract tracing, a key measure needed to control spread, is also more challenging in bars because of the constant mixing among patrons and a lack of record-keeping of those in attendance."

Newsom said the virus is spreading so rapidly in Imperial County that
the state asked officials there to reinstate a strict stay-at-home order because the hospital system in the area can't handle the surge in cases. Riverside County Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that 10 to 15 patients a day are being transferred from Imperial County to Riverside County and surrounding jurisdictions. Many of those patients include Mexican nationals, he said.

According to the county health order, restaurants and breweries that offer dine-in services may remain in operation and continue to serve alcoholic beverages, but those must be part of the overall transaction, with meals.

The governor last week ordered all California residents to wear face coverings in most settings outside their homes to help slow the spread of the virus. The statewide mandate requires residents to wear masks in "high-risk situations," which cover virtually all scenarios.

Riverside County had previously rescinded its mask mandate.

The county was advancing into stage 3 of the governor's four-stage public health de-regulation plan. But with COVID-19 cases spiking, and the renewed restrictions announced, that process may now be on hold.