­Riverside County Eyes Orange Tier Next Week, But Concerns Remain

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Variants, increased gathering, and vaccination hesitancy could land the county into a “fourth wave” of COVID, health officials warn.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Riverside County is poised to move into the state’s “orange tier” next week, but local health officials urge that lessening of restrictions could result in a fourth wave of the coronavirus if residents increase gathering, don’t follow safety protocols, and don’t get vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Riverside County Director of Public Kim Saruwatari told the Board of Supervisors that the county would likely move to the orange tier next week because the state is on track to meet its Vaccine Equity Metric goal of 4 million vaccinations in coming days. The goal aims to prevent COVID spread among Californians who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Once the state meets that 4-million mark, the California Department of Public Health will adjust the “case rate” metric downward to 2-5.9 cases per 100,000 residents. It’s a key metric that’s prevented the county from progressing more quickly through the state’s tiered framework.

With that anticipated change, Riverside County — with its current COVID-19 figures — would move into the orange tier two days after the adjustment is made, according to state data. 

Riverside County’s case rate was reported at 4.1 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday.

See what opens in the orange tier here.

While Riverside County is trending in the right direction, many states and countries are seeing spikes in virus spread, and two California variants are now listed as “Variants of Concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Saruwatari addressed the variants and said while it’s not clear whether they are more deadly or cause greater hospitalizations, data show the mutations are more easily spread.

There is “20 percent increased transmissibility” over the initial COVID-19 strain, Saruwatari said.

Concern that younger people — who are less likely to be vaccinated — are more vulnerable to infection by variants is ongoing. Supervisor Jeff Hewitt questioned whether the currently available vaccines offer protection.

Solid data on vaccine efficacy and variants are not available, according to Saruwatari, but she said, “some level of protection is better than nothing.”

As of Tuesday morning, 44.2 percent of Riverside County residents 65 and older are now fully vaccinated, while 16.2 percent of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, according to Saruwatari.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Riverside County Public Health Director Dr. Geoffrey Leung implored all eligible residents to get vaccinated. He reminded the public that on Thursday, vaccine eligibility expands to include anyone 50 and older. On April 15, eligibility expands to anyone 16 and older.

More information about vaccine eligibility and appointments can be found here. Anyone who needs assistance can call the county’s helpline at 211 or reach out to 951-358-5000.

Original article published at Patch.

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