Starting this week, business proprietors will be able to apply for individual grants of up to $10,000 each thanks to $45 million in federal money that is now available to small businesses countywide impacted by coronavirus-related public health shutdowns, according to Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel.
"Ninety-six percent of businesses in Riverside County are small businesses -- 50 employees or less. These grants can be used for job retention, economic preservation, payroll, working capital, to buy personal protective equipment," Spiegel said. "This is to alleviate the hardship experienced by private for-profit businesses located in Riverside County."
The $45 million allotment was part of a larger $431 million award to the county under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security -- CARES -- Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in March.
The Board of Supervisors will formally vote on the process of awarding grants during its meeting Tuesday, but a website has already been established for interested parties to gather information on the requirements to apply for funds.
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"You need to have operated in the county for a year and have documentation for operating history," Spiegel said. "That includes a county business license, 2019 financial statements or tax returns. Nonprofits and startups, unfortunately, do not qualify."
Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez hailed another positive development -- renewed access to short-term rental properties in unincorporated communities.
The board had previously rescinded county-level restrictions on short- term rentals, but with state regulations still in place and no provisions for how properties should be managed amid the ongoing COVID-19 threats, properties were not permitted to reopen.
The Riverside County Economic Recovery Task Force developed guidelines for owners to follow, according to Perez.
"Only guests registered to stay in the homes should be on the premises," Perez said. "There should be strict cleaning protocols, and we are asking for clearly posted signage inside each property citing the county's and cities' health orders and recommendations."
He emphasized that events involving crowds should not be held, and municipalities with their own regulations preempt anything the county has on the books, including continued prohibitions against rentals.
The county's latest coronavirus data show 7,486 documented infections as of Friday, compared to 7,341 on Thursday, and 6,464 a week ago. The so- called "doubling time" -- a key metric that reflects over what period the number of infections has increased 100% -- is now beyond three weeks. A seven- day doubling event is considered troubling. Longer doubling times point to moderation, according to health officials.
According to the Riverside University Health System, 320 people have died from complications associated with COVID-19, and 4,562 patients have recovered from the virus.
Since the rate of infection has slowed, Riverside County officials discontinued weekend updates.
County Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton acknowledged that the county has received more than 70 patients from Imperial County, which City News Service first detailed Thursday.
Barton said most of the patients arrived during the last two weeks of May, and they were part of a "large number of people south of the border coming across the border for medical care."
In most cases, the patients were unable to obtain health services at Imperial County's two hospitals, and in coordination with state officials, the individuals were transferred to one of the 16 medical facilities in Riverside County for care, according to Barton.
He confirmed that some of the patients had been counted among county residents hospitalized for coronavirus-related symptoms, and there was no distinction between the two in the COVID-19 hospital count published by the Riverside University Health System, which currently stands at 202.
"I did have some concerns about an artificial spike in numbers and the need for separate numbers," Spiegel said. "We have had conversations with the governor's office, and we've been assured there won't be repercussions for us (by the higher patient count tied to Imperial County's cases)."
Barton said the countywide total hospital bed capacity of 3,560 and the ICU bed capacity of 385 have not been seriously impacted by the Imperial Valley arrivals, and the "metrics for reopening" the county under the governor's multi-stage de-regulation plan should not be affected.
The county is in the accelerated half of stage 2 of the framework, permitting retail establishments, hair salons, dine-in restaurants and gaming facilities to operate with restrictions. In stage 3, theaters and sporting venues will be permitted to reopen. Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said the county is already in the qualification range to advance to the next stage.
She pointed out the need for ongoing testing among residents and encouraged those who haven't been screened to make an appointment online.