Contra Costa to close indoor dining, fitness centers, movie theater concessions Tuesday to contain spread of COVID-19

In coordination with other Bay Ara counties

If the current restrictions don’t work “we are prepared for further restrictions” – Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa Health Officer during Friday afternoon press conference

On Thursday, California reached the unfortunate milestone of 1 million COVID cases statewide. With transmission and hospitalizations on the rise, health officers representing counties across the Bay Area are tightening local rules for high-risk indoor activities where the virus can spread more easily.

Contra Costa Health Services today issued an order to close, effective Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 8 a.m.:

  • Indoor dining
  • Indoor fitness centers
  • Concession stands at movie theaters

Dine-in restaurant and gyms reopened at reduced capacities when the county entered the state’s red tier in late September. But recent increases in COVID cases and hospitalizations make the closures necessary to help contain spread of the virus.

“Indoor interactions at restaurants, movie theaters, and indoor gyms and fitness centers are high-risk activities,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County Health Officer. “And given what we’re seeing happen across the country and the region, we must act now.”

Diners at restaurants remove their masks to eat or drink, as do movie patrons when snacking on food from concession stands. People also breathe heavily while they exercise at indoor gyms, increasing the risk of droplet and aerosol transmission of COVID-19, which can be only partially reduced by wearing a face covering.

Contra Costa recently moved from the state’s orange tier to the more restrictive red tier because of an increasing number of cases in the county. Meanwhile, hospitalizations in Contra Costa have returned to levels not seen in several weeks. On Nov. 11, 50 people with COVID were hospitalized in the county – the highest number since September.

“I’ve said this many times before, but it’s so important I can’t repeat it enough: The best way to protect against COVID-19 is to wear a face covering whenever you are near people who do not live with you, and whenever you go in a building that is not your home,” said Dr. Farnitano.

Health officials are especially worried about people gathering indoors with the holidays coming up and may consider other closures in the days and weeks ahead. Contra Costa County, which is now in the red tier, could move into the state’s most restrictive tier, the purple tier, within the coming weeks. If the county moves into the purple tier, schools that haven’t reopened will have to remain closed until the county moves back into the red tier or until they receive a waiver from the state.

“Our hope is that this new health order will slow down the spread of COVID so schools will have a better chance to reopen,” Dr. Farnitano said.

Screenshot of Dr. Chris Farnitano during press conference on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

Dr. Farnitano Press Conference

During a Zoom press conference Friday afternoon Farnitano was asked by the Herald, “Is this decision based on what’s actually happening in our county, or what’s happening in other Bay Area counties and elsewhere?” he responded, “We’re really looking at all of it.”

Where people are getting COVID, “many if not most cannot pinpoint any specific locations,” Farnitano explained. “But where we can identify, restaurants, gyms we are imposing restrictions.”

“Why can’t we just protect the vulnerable and allow the rest of us get back to living our lives?” the Herald asked.

“That would be an ideal strategy if it can work. But it can’t. The vulnerable can’t live in a bubble,” Farnitano stated. “We see it in our nursing homes. Those who work there go home, go shopping, and are with their families where they can be exposed.”

“To protect the most vulnerable in our society we need to keep the overall transmission to a minimum,” he added.

“What is the basis for closing indoor fitness centers and not other indoor activities,” he was asked.

“We have seen looking across the country and across the state there have been outbreaks in gyms and fitness centers,” Farnitano said during a press conference Friday afternoon. “People can exercise outside or at home. Outdoor fitness operations are still allowed. This current order doesn’t have an endpoint. When our hospital case rates come down…then we can reconsider these orders.

“Masks does not provide the same level of protection when youre around someone breathing heavily and exercising,” he added.

The actions are “due to the rapidly rising of rates in our community,” Farnitano explained.

One person asked about the county “moving the goal posts instead of enforcing existing rules”.

“The enforcement efforts have not proven sufficient,” Farnitano responded. “The more we can wear our masks and stay away from others outside of our households the sooner we can get past this upsurge.”

“Our case rate in the past seven days are already in the Purple Tier. We are testing at higher levels than state averages. Our adjusted case rate is even in the Purple Tier,” he said. “We have seen the case rate increase in the last several days in our hospitals.”

The county is issuing these orders, now so, “We can hope to blunt that wave, blunt that surge…to get us through a winter surge quicker and with less harm to the community as far as illness and death,” Farnitano explained.

“Are church services impacted further,” he was asked.

“Not at this point,” Farnitano responded. “We implemented restrictions on churches last week for the Red Tier. We are prepared to add additional restrictions in the future if our hospitalizations rise, in advance of state restrictions.”

“We are looking at all of our health care systems and how we can get through the latest wave,” he explained.

“Will it be enough? I am not sure. We will have to watch the data and see,” said Farnitano. “We all have to do our part, wear our masks, six feet of social distancing.

“But if it doesn’t we are prepared for further restrictions,” Farnitano added. “The state could move us into Purple the day after Thanksgiving.”

“Why don’t you believe in herd immunity,” he was asked.

“Herd immunity would take an enormous toll on the community and lead to enormous deaths, more than we’ve seen,” Farnitano responded. “We would need 70 to 80% levels of herd immunity. It would take uncontrollable disease for months and months and months and that would be too high of a toll for the community.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

 

 

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