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28 Aug 2020

The New Reopening Guidelines, Explained; Rapid COVID-19 Tests Get OK'd—Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest: Aug. 28, 2020

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Let the reopening begin! Again! Hopefully without a horrifying spike in COVID-19 cases this time!

Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced an all-new reopening plan—and gone is that state county watch list and all the various stages that, frankly, didn’t always make sense. In their place is a four-tiered system, with each county’s tier based on two major criteria: the number of new cases per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate. Counties will have to meet each tier’s criteria for at least two weeks before moving up.

What does this mean for us here in Riverside County? Even though we’re in the worst tier (like most of the rest of the state), it means more reopenings in the short-term: Hair salons, barber shops and malls will be able to reopen for some indoor business on Monday.

As for everything else … let’s just say the wider post-Labor Day reopenings the county was hoping for ain’t gonna happen.

According to the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving forward. Data is reviewed weekly and tiers are updated on Tuesdays. To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks.

Translated: We are in the “Widespread” tier. The next-best tier is the “Substantial” tier; counties there can allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and gyms to open indoors at 10 percent capacity, among other things. But to get admitted into the “Substantial” tier, Riverside County would need to see fewer than seven new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 people, and get the positivity rate below 8 percent—and do so for at least two weeks.

As of now, according to the state, we’re seeing 10.4 cases per day per 100,000 people, with an 8.4 percent positivity rate.

All in all, this is a much clearer—and much stricter—set of guidelines. If they’re followed, it means we’re much, much less likely to run into another spike.

But it also means a whole lot of businesses are going to remain limited or closed altogether for a very long time. Take bars, for example: According to these new guidelines, they can’t reopen indoors without serving food until a county reaches the least-restrictive “Minimal” tier—when there’s less than one new case per day per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate is less than 2 percent. And even then, they can open only at half-capacity.

More news from the day below.

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• Related, sort of: The owners of theme parks are pushing for them to be allowed to reopen—although based on the guidelines issued today, that doesn’t seem likely. “Legoland California will host a news conference in Miniland U.S.A. on Friday, Aug. 28 with county and city officials who will call for the park and other San Diego County business to be allowed to open,” according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

• On Monday, we linked to a piece about a quick-turnaround, no-lab-needed COVID-19 test being used for employees and flight crews at San Francisco International Airport. Well, this latest potential pandemic “game-changer” just received emergency-use authorization from the FDA—and could come to a place near you within a couple months. Per CNN: “The antigen test, in which involves a nasal swab, uses the same type of technology as a flu test. Abbott says it anticipates producing 50 million BinaxNOW tests a month by October.

• Oh, and if you’re an investor in Abbott Labs’ stock, rejoice, because the feds announced yesterday that they’re spending $750 million to buy 150 million of these rapid tests.

• I am a little biased here, being a journalist and all, but I don’t think this has received as much attention as it should have: The Washington Post published a piece revealing that President Trump’s company has charged the federal government more than $900,000 for Secret Service hotel rooms and various other things. That’s a big deal in and of itself. But then there’s this—an authoritarian-style threat from a White House spokesman for exposing such malfeasance. “The Washington Post is blatantly interfering with the business relationships of the Trump Organization, and it must stop,” Deere wrote in his statement. “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.” Wow.

• The Washington Post also did a stunning piece showing that Trump’s insistence on public appearances is putting the Secret Service agents tasked with keeping him safe at risk: “In the past two months, dozens of Secret Service agents who worked to ensure the security of the president and Vice President Pence at public events have been sickened or sidelined because they were in direct contact with infected people, according to multiple people familiar with the episodes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the incidents.

A whole lot of states are basically ignoring the CDC’s stunningly lax new testing guidelines. “California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York all plan to continue to test asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting that such tests may not be needed,” according to Reuters.

• NBA playoff games are slated to resume tomorrow, and the protests that started in the NBA on Wednesday and spread to other sports are leading to some very good things. According to NPR: “The league has committed to create a social justice coalition, work with elections officials to convert NBA arenas into polling places for the 2020 election and create advertising spots to promote ‘greater civic engagement in national and local elections.’”

CNN posted a series of before-and-after satellite images showing the awful devastation Hurricane Laura has wrought in southwestern Louisiana. And NBC News examined fears that the evacuations forced by the hurricane could cause more spread of COVID-19. Similarly, The Conversation examined how the hurricane and California’s wildfires could make the pandemic worse.

• Sign No. 273,464 that this recession/depression is going to be lengthy and difficult: MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000 peopleabout a quarter of its employees in the U.S.

• As the California Legislature works feverishly on unfinished business before the session’s end on Monday, they’re doing so without most Senate Republicans being allowed in the Capitol—because they were exposed to a state senator who has COVID-19.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week. Along with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, I talked to Palm Springs Pride head Ron deHarte about the plans for a socially distant Pride in November, and Palm Springs City Councilmember Grace Garner about the controversial vote on the new downtown park.

• We’ve linked to stories in this space before regarding the possibility that sewage testing could stop coronavirus outbreaks early. Well, it appears that very thing happened at the University of Arizona, where two—but only two—people in a dorm were found to have COVID-19 after the virus was found in wastewater samples.

The delayed and much-changed Tour de France bicycle race starts tomorrow. Key quote, from The Associated Press: “Amid the pandemic, the usually boisterous celebration of cycling that for decades has drawn packed throngs of cheering roadside spectators promises to be a strange and more subdued affair, moved for the first time in its 117-year history out of its traditional July slot to a September month when many fans will be back at school or at work after summer vacations.

• CNET takes an in-depth look at the nasty battle taking place over California’s gig-worker laws—in which Lyft and Uber’s representatives are engaging in at-times nasty attacks against people who support the move to make the rideshare apps’ drivers employees rather than contractors.

• And finally, we’re just going to leave this quote from a New York Post article right here, and try very, very hard to forget all about it: “Scientists now say that the coronavirus may be able to spread throughout buildings, via toilets and drain pipes—an especially alarming prospect for apartment dwellers with suspect plumbing. The discovery was made in China, after researchers swabbed the “long vacant” apartment directly below a family of five who tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the fact that no one was living in the apartment below, the researchers found traces of the virus on the sink, faucet and shower handle.”

That’s enough news for what’s been a crazy news week. Wash your hands. Be kind, and enjoy your weekend. Please take the time to vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll! The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

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