As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Riverside County officials are eyeing a December end to current federal coronavirus funding, which is partly used for testing and tracing.
Riverside County Executive Officer George Johnson told the board of supervisors at their meeting on November 10, that he is planning for the worst-case scenario of no extended federal stimulus money in 2021 due to gridlock in Washington.
“We do need state and federal assistance to keep paying for these testing and tracing functions," said Johnson. "We can’t do it alone.”
Johnson offered the board a rough estimate that the county currently spends $5 million per month on testing and tracing. His team is working on a budget, including ways to cut costs should a new stimulus plan fall through.
“We are looking at alternative ways to reduce the amount of staff that we have to have to provide the testing services," said Johnson. "So that will hopefully drive down those costs.”
The county hopes to soon be able to reduce testing staff once a contract with a lab that provides self-administered tests is finalized this week. Johnson also pointed to the hope that a vaccine early next year might provide herd immunity.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser agrees that Pfizer’s news about its successful vaccine trial does offer a bright spot, but for down the road.
“We are continuing to make sure we have plans in place because it will be a while before there is mass production [so] that we’re able to get this rolled out to out medical providers, our individuals who are medically vulnerable, and also out first responders," said Kaiser. "Then as our availability improves get it out to the remainder of the population."
These budget concerns come as hospitalizations are up 57 percent from a month ago. Positivity rates are also creeping up, a trend seen nationwide. Officials warn a majority of cases are in people younger than 30 who have a higher chance of being asymptomatic and unknowingly spreading the virus. Officials also report a concerning rise in nursing home cases and deaths.
“Our data shows that both our case rates and our positivity rates continue to increase," said Kaiser. "And in the aftermath of the election, regardless of your feelings on the matter, we would ask that people find some other means other than gatherings to express your views.”
Riverside County remains in the state’s most restrictive re-opening tier. They are working with other Southern California counties to present recommendations for a revised re-opening strategy later this month.