As of Tuesday, Sept. 22, Riverside County was permitted to move from the most restrictive purple-tier status of reopening to the more lenient red tier. In just a few weeks, movie theatres will resume operation with restrictions, restaurants will resume indoor dining with restrictions and schools may move back to in-person instruction. With all of these reopenings planned in such a short amount of time, it feels as if this decision was made prematurely and citizens living in Riverside could be in danger of another COVID-19 wave if no one is careful.
The colored tiers established by the Blueprint for a Safer Economy have been used by counties in California in order to gauge their chances of reopening. The purple tier is the most restrictive status in which the risk level for the county is considered widespread. This means that there are more than seven cases per 10,000 residents in addition to a more than 8% test positivity rate. Not far above this is the red tier status. This is the status in question for Riverside County and the neighboring San Bernardino County which recently failed to reach the red tier as of September 30. Within the red tier status, risk level is still considered substantial with four to seven cases per 10,000 residents and a test positivity rate of 5 to 8%. Considering that the red tier is only one step above the purple tier, it seems premature to allow so many businesses to reopen at once, even with the restrictions put in place. Moreover, it seems as if Riverside County is more worried about dollar signs than the health of its citizens and are giving in to the pressure put on by those who have been protesting the virus from the start.
What’s more concerning is that individuals who have been reluctant to follow safety precautions from the start would be the most likely to use this change of status as an excuse to not wear masks and increase the risk of spreading the virus. This hasty decision will further reinforce the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus isn’t as serious as it is. Additionally, it will also be difficult to enforce safety precautions especially in places such as a dark movie theatre where people will take their masks off frequently to eat.
Switching into red tier means that in addition to movie theatres, restaurants, places of worship and gyms will resume indoor operations. This is extremely worrisome because regardless of promising to provide better air filtration, the implementation of that does not guarantee safety. There is no concrete evidence that proves air filtration lessens the spread of coronavirus indoors. So, in places of worship or restaurants where people gather closely, the county can not ensure that citizens are completely safe from the virus. For instance, even if the red tier status restricts restaurants to allow 25% of capacity or up to 100 people to dine indoors, whichever is fewer, that is still too great of a risk considering that a group of one hundred people in an enclosed space is still dangerous.
It is not a mystery that people have been getting restless. But, making a huge decision like this so hastily means Riverside County’s red tier status could be short lived. It should not matter how many people are protesting the government just because they would rather eat a burger inside of a Carl’s Jr. instead of keeping the immunocompromised safe. Riverside county officials need to put their foot down instead of jumping the gun. It would be safer and more sensible if officials waited until Riverside County met the orange tier criteria at the very least.
While it appears that Riverside County has made progress with a decreased case rate, this should not translate to jumping to the conclusion that everything should reopen. It would be wiser for officials to wait a little longer for more promising numbers. Otherwise, a second wave of infections in Riverside County and surrounding areas could be just around the corner.