Riverside County officials vote to rescind all local coronavirus public health orders
After nearly seven hours of debate, Riverside County officials voted unanimously late Friday to rescind all of the county’s stay-at-home orders that go beyond the governor’s restrictions.
The Board of Supervisors voted to lift the closure of vocational and higher-education schools, end the restriction on golf courses, eliminate limitations on short-term lodging, and remove the requirements to wear face coverings and engage in social distancing.
Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, had put the restrictions in place until June 19.
Kaiser and George Johnson, the county’s director of emergency services, plan to sign the amended school order and the rescission of the remaining three orders on Saturday, according to Brooke Federico, county public information officer.
The original measure called to revoke the closure of all schools, but after receiving advice from superintendents, county officials voted to keep K-12 schools closed. Last week, Newsom said public schools might reopen as early as July.
Officials also voted for the use of face coverings to be “strongly recommended” by the county, instead of being mandated as Kaiser implemented last month. The use of masks is only a recommendation on the state level.
During the meeting, 5th District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said that he didn’t feel he needed to wear a mask, citing conflicting evidence of its benefits, but that he would continue to do so if certain businesses require it.
“That’s my personal choice,” he said. “I think that people are smart enough to make [that] decision themselves.”
A 78-year-old man, who spoke in support of rescission, agreed with Hewitt said that he wears a mask only when he’s around people who are afraid. “I’m not afraid.... People get old and they die.”
The supervisors met Tuesday intending to make a decision — during an eight-plus-hour meeting — but postponed their vote until Friday. They had hoped to have more clarity to make their decision following the governor’s address on new guidelines for reopening the state.
But many of them were left disappointed. Although Newsom announced the reopening of some retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, he said that in order for counties to move further into the second phase of reopenings, they would need to meet new criteria. Those include for a county to not have more than one COVID case per 10,000 people, or any COVID-19 death, in 14 days.
Like his colleagues, 4th District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, the board chair, called the guidelines unattainable and impossible for Riverside County and any other urban counties with large populations.
“I think that all of us were taken aback and honestly disappointed when we heard the news from our governor,” Perez said. “We thought there would be some good news that could help us” make a decision, Perez said.
Hewitt said that he questioned Newsom’s leadership and that he wanted to remove all of his restrictions. A crowd of protesters, who demanded the rescission of all the restrictions, cheered their support.
When 1st District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said the county didn’t have the power to revoke Newsom’s orders, Hewitt countered: “The funny part is we do all the enforcement, so his power is powerless if you don’t enforce it.”
Sheriff Chad Bianco had said Tuesday that he would not be enforcing any of the county’s restrictions, which he believed to be unreasonable. During public comment on both days, many protesters voiced their support of him.
Local health experts weren’t given time to speak during Friday’s board meeting, but Vice Chair and 2nd District Supervisor Karen Spiegel said that she’d spoken to Kaiser about potentially amending the mask requirement.
On Tuesday, Kaiser said his position hadn’t changed, and he credited the county’s lower-than-expected COVID-19 cases and deaths to the strict orders. He was not available for comment Friday night, and it was not clear if his position had changed, though he apparently plans to sign the recission orders.
Throughout the meeting, many protesters demanded that the supervisors “reopen the economy” and businesses, but Perez reiterated that the county still has to follow the governor’s guidelines. Many supervisors expressed interest in teaming up with other counties to form a coalition to approach Newsom about easing restrictions.
“We will have more power in numbers,” 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington said.
With 4,817 COVID-19 cases, Riverside County has the second highest number in the state. A total of 204 people have died from the disease, an increase of 20 since Tuesday. More than 66,000 people have been tested thus far, and nearly 2,500 have recovered.
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