Following California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to begin transferring more decision-making power over the reopening process to local public officials, it is no surprise that Riverside County officials are already debating what steps to take moving forward. After two days of hearing testimonies from Riverside County residents, on Friday, May 8, Riverside County supervisors voted in favor of asking Public Health Official Dr. Cameron Kaiser to rescind four coronavirus health orders. The sentiment of the board and the residents who support reopening is understandable, but despite what people are feeling, it is for the best that nothing is rescinded in order to prevent the possibility of Riverside County being hit with a worse second wave.
The board voted 5-0 to ask Kaiser to rescind a mandate for residents to cover their face and practice social distancing while in public. Alongside that, they are asking for an order that limits the rentals of hotels and motels to coronavirus-related business only and restrictions on play on golf courses to be lifted as well. Riverside County supervisors also are looking to remove higher education institutions and vocational schools from the order that closes schools until June 19.
At the time of writing, Riverside County has the second highest number of cases among all the counties in California with 6,464 confirmed COVID-19 cases. This amount seems small in comparison to Los Angeles County’s 44,055 confirmed cases, but in order to prevent this number from growing, social distancing measures need to be kept in place.
While in theory, the mandate for residents to cover their faces could be lifted because it is unlikely that everyone would be eager to immediately go out maskless. But even just one asymptomatic person going out without a mask is likely to put others in immediate risk. In a study about the nature of the novel coronavirus, it was found that for every 100 cases of coronavirus transmission, somewhere between 46 and 55 of them could be traced to a presymptomatic spreader. Although it is not foolproof, a simple cotton mask dramatically reduces the number of virus particles emitted from one’s mouth by as much as 99% and therefore prevents rapid spread of the virus.
The implications that lifting face covering and social distancing orders has is the most concerning for essential workers as it could be detrimental to their health and working conditions. Businesses across the state are implementing rules where they specify that they will not serve customers unless their face is covered and already, people are rebelling. An example of this is a video that has recently gone viral where a Costco employee is asking a patron to leave because he is not wearing a mask. The customer is heard refusing to wear one because he is “not a sheep” and the video ends with his shopping cart being taken away by said employee.
It is true that wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, it is not only for the safety of oneself but essential workers as well. Essential workers are still working around numerous people and the more people who opt to go maskless, the more essential workers are at risk. The order mandating faces to be covered along with social distancing needs to stay in place so that essential workers have something substantial to back them up when dealing with difficult customers. People are already not listening as is, lifting this order will only make it easier for patrons to ignore essential workers who are just following their company policies meant to keep them safe.
A game of golf can be enjoyable for some, but whether or not it is worth risking one’s health and the health of others is something the board and Riverside County residents need to ask themselves. Kaiser, who had closed all golf courses initially, allowed them to be reopened on April 20 while being subjected to limitations on how many can play. Golfers were also required to practice social distancing and could not use caddies. Now, the board is asking for these restrictions to be lifted without any truly good reason.
People are already allowed to play golf, to lift the social distancing restrictions only puts more individuals in danger for little benefit. Social distancing has already proven to be effective, with California on track to see fewer coronavirus-related deaths than New York because of social distancing measures that were put in place a week ahead of New York. While Riverside County residents continue to play their beloved sport, the order must be kept in place to reiterate that it is a game better played safe rather than sorry.
Even though Riverside County supervisors are hoping for higher education institutions and vocational schools to reopen sooner than later because of how students and universities stimulate the local economy, it would be impractical for schools to suddenly follow their leads. Local institutions have already developed their own guidelines for reopening ahead of time in order to accommodate students’ health and travel needs. Not only has UCR announced plans for remote summer sessions, on May 9, UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox responded with a statement that went against the board’s wishes. Wilcox stated, “This action will not result in any immediate changes to UC Riverside’s campus operations or our plans for remote instruction this spring and summer. These actions essentially move us under the State of California requirements. Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order remains in place until further notice. We will continue to ask employees who are currently working on campus to wear face coverings and to practice physical distancing to the maximum extent possible.”
The desire to lift restrictions on the rental of hotels and motels along with higher education institutions and vocational schools is understandable considering how small businesses in the Riverside area are struggling. But to rescind even one of two of these orders could render the rest completely useless. The longer this pandemic continues, the more restless people become and if they are given an inch, they will push for a mile. Many Riverside Country residents and local officials argued similarly to the board, stating that lifting orders could cause infections to surge and send the wrong message that the pandemic is over.
The pandemic is in fact far from over and things have only recently begun looking up for Riverside County. The percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 within the county has lowered to 6% but at the same time hospitalizations have risen 3% in the past week. The county’s death toll has not seen any extreme spikes but the number of cases is still increasing each day.
If we want to continue to see these small wins, it is imperative that these orders, especially the ones that require social distancing measures, stay in place. The testimonies from Riverside County citizens arguing for the lifting of these orders are feelings that anyone can relate to, but during a time like this, it is important to accept the problems that COVID-19 has brought into our lives for the sake of the larger population’s health. While the constant inconveniences can be overwhelming and at times seemingly insurmountable, we must remember that these bumps in the road are only temporary while the lives lost to this virus and others’ negligence are forever.