Riverside County health officials reported three more deaths associated with the coronavirus Saturday, bringing the countywide death toll to 18, as the total number of cases reached 665.
"Anytime we lose one of our county residents it is painful; it is a tragedy. All of these individuals had families, had loved ones and friends who are grieving," said Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico during a video briefing this afternoon.
Officials also reported 27 new confirmed coronavirus cases and urged residents to follow county health protocols. So far, 60 people have recovered from the illness.
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"We absolutely need everyone to do their part: to stay inside, stay in place, maintain your space and cover your face," Federico said.
Saturday's increase in cases is smaller than the 30%-jump between Thursday's and Friday's numbers, which was the largest one-day increase since the first case was reported in Riverside County March 8.
"We've heard that California COVID-19 cases may be slowing down, but that is not what we are seeing in Riverside County," said Dr. Geoffrey Leung of the Riverside University Health System at a news conference Friday. "Our cases continue to rise exponentially, and we have very little time to turn this around."
Leung said the county remains on track to see 65,000 cases, 11,000 hospitalizations and 1,000 deaths by the beginning of May.
He said that number of hospitalizations would be three to four times the capacity of the county's hospital system.
In addition to staying home and hand washing, Leung shared four other solutions he said could help Riverside County flatten the curve: testing, enforcement, face coverings and closing all nonessential businesses and gathering places.
"If we can do one of these things well ... we believe we can decrease the number of cases and deaths by 50%. If we can do three of these things well, we believe we can decrease the hospitalizations, the cases and the deaths by 75%, saving nearly 700 or 800 lives or more," Leung said, "but we have to do them well, and we have to do them now."
More than 5,000 Riverside County residents have been tested for the virus as of numbers available Thursday. The local mortality rate remains slightly over 1%, according to officials.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department on Friday reported that a second deputy died due to the coronavirus. Sheriff Chad Bianco said David Werksman, 51, most likely contracted the disease while attending his mother's funeral and not while on the job.
The 22-year veteran of the sheriff's department was assigned to the Public Records Unit and is survived by his wife and three children. Werksman died Thursday, hours after another career lawman, Terrell Young, succumbed to viral complications, according to the sheriff's department.
Young had been with the sheriff's department since December 2005 and was most recently assigned to the Cois Byrd Detention Center. He is survived by his wife and four children.
"The deaths of these two heroes are a very real and painful reminder of the risk these women and men face every single day protecting the people of California,'' Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement today. "Jennifer and I send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Deputy Young and Deputy Werksman as they grapple with this tremendous loss."
Newsom said the flags atop the State Capitol will be flown at half-staff in honor of Young and Werksman.
Bianco also confirmed that 26 sheriff's employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, while 13 inmates have been verified as infected. Two employees have been hospitalized, he said.
On Thursday, Riverside County Public Health Officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser announced all schools will remain shuttered until June 19 due to the coronavirus pandemic, effectively closing schools — from elementary schools to universities — through the end of the academic school year. It remains unclear whether individual school districts will adjust their schedules in the future.
Meanwhile, Kaiser also ordered on Thursday for all golf courses in Riverside County to shut down immediately, both public and private, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
As of Friday, three county-run drive-thru testing locations were open throughout the county.
The latest one at Harvest Christian Fellowship church in Riverside opened Wednesday, and is by appointment only, Tuesday through Saturday.
Drive-thru testing is also available in the parking lot at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio, also by appointment only, open Tuesday through Saturday.
The testing site is on the same property as a temporary 125-bed field hospital is staffed and ready to begin taking patients, although county officials have not said when those patients would arrive.
Officials want temporary hospitals set up to be treating non-critically ill patients — including those being treated for illnesses other than coronavirus — before the anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases hits.
Another 125-bed temporary hospital is slated to be set up in western Riverside County, but that location has not yet been identified.
An additional COVID-19 screening location is situated at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore, where appointment-only patients can get drive-thru service between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Sundays to Thursdays. Anyone who lives within a 50-mile radius of the Riverside metropolitan area can access the site.
People who want to get tested must call 800-945-6171 to be screened for specific symptoms. Appointments for the Lake Elsinore site can also be made