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COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in Riverside County in 2020

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COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in Riverside County in 2020, Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari reported to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning.

"We have looked at leading causes of death" compared to 2019, Director Kim Saruwatari said.

In the Latinx community, COVID-19 related death is the second leading cause of death this year. It's the third leading cause of death for black/African American Riverside County residents. It's ranked sixth for white people.

Cancer and heart disease, also leading causes of death in Riverside County, also increased in 2020, as did COVID-19. "It's not that we are detracting from our other leading causes of death and adding to COVID. We are seeing a true increase in death due to COVID."

She also relayed information from an excess mortality report prepared by health officials. "The excess mortality report looks at deaths that occurred between 2015 and 2019, and compares that to 2020." Dr. Saruwatari said. Adjustments are made for changes in the population like age to compare across the years.

"When we do that, we see that in 2020, we have a 10% increase in excess mortality. We also see that we have a 28% increase in excess mortality attributable to the Latinx population and a 21% excess mortality attributable to the black or African American population. Not surprising because we also see those communities impacted by our case rates and there are certainly compounding issues of access to care, late care-seeking, underlying conditions, things like that."

Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari

Health officials also used the opportunity to share an appreciation for the increase in testing rates throughout the county. The most recent rate of testing is at least 221.6 per 100,000 residents. In previous weeks, it had been about 130 per 100,000. This is relevant because testing and case rates are key factors in determining where counties fall in the state's color-coded tier system. Rates are adjusted up or down based on how a county's testing compares to the California median county testing rate. 

Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser commended the higher testing rates. "With these numbers we have nearly erased the state penalty on our case rate," Dr. Kaiser said. "While more cases are expected with more testing, the state's rationale for assessing the penalty in the first place is to account for the cases that weren't being found before."

"Testing alone is not sufficient to fix the problem and get us moving along the tier framework."

Riverside County Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser

Increased testing helps public health officials identify cases and implement public health measures for treatment and to prevent the spread of the disease. The increased testing has also determined an increase in detected cases. Riverside County's unadjusted case rate is 9.8 per 100,000. It's 10.1 per 100,000 with the state-mandated adjustment, Dr. Saruwatari reported.

"Testing once doesn't mean you are clear from getting COVID." Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. "We need to have people keep testing, particularly asymptomatic, to keep the numbers up."

Spiegel is also a driving force behind a proposal to coordinate a unified front against the state's color-coded tier system. That idea is also being discussed by supervisors today.

MORE: Supervisor seeks unified front to change state’s reopening tier system

Stay up-to-date with the latest local coronavirus news, including reopenings and closing, new case data, live news conferences, and other updates at KESQ.com/Coronavirus or download the News Channel 3 app on the Apple Store and Google Play.

Coronavirus: Questions Answered / Health / Top Stories

KESQ News Team

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