First coronavirus-related death confirmed in Contra Costa County, confirmed cases now at 42

Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Christ Farnitano speaks during a press conference on Friday, March 20, 2020 as Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, Deputy Health Officer, Contra Costa Health Officer waits to speak. Screenshot of YouTube video.

“More confirmed cases does not mean we are losing ground.”; “Go out with your friends, your family, go on a hike…” – County Health Officer;  “It’s up to each city to make a determination with regard to enforcement.” – Chair of the Board of Supervisors

Coronavirus. CDC image.

By Allen Payton

Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has confirmed the county’s first confirmed death linked to COVID-19.

The patient died Thursday in a hospital in the county. The Contra Costa resident was in their 70’s and had a pre-existing condition that put them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and a history of recent overseas travel.

A media briefing by county officials to update the public was held this morning.

“Today we regret to announce the first death in Contra Costa County caused by the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, County Health Officer. “This person passed away at a hospital in our county on Thursday. They were in their 70’s and they had a condition that placed them at risk of serious illness, and they had recently traveled outside of the country.”

The individual traveled from Europe, but those were all the details he would provide. “Unfortunately, we do anticipate more deaths in Contra Costa County,” Farnitano said.

“This death underscores the urgent need for all Contra Costa residents to follow the stay at home order, maintain social distancing and the state order just issued by Governor Newsom, last night,” he stated. “Novel coronavirus is dangerous for older adults and people with certain medical conditions, including heart or lung disease, diabetes and those with weak immune systems.”

“We believe that by following these orders we can reduce the spread of the virus, right now in our community and that will save lives,” Dr. Farnitano continued. “The situation is very serious in Contra Costa. We expect more confirmed cases as our testing expands. So far, Contra Costa Public Health has confirmed 42 cases in our community. We believe that aggressive testing can help, and we are ramping up our testing efforts on a daily basis.”

Most testing is being done by private labs.

“Our public health lab is performing between 40 to 100 tests per day, but that’s a small percentage of the total testing being done across the county, right now,” he stated.

“As we’re expanding our testing, we really want to get to the point we’re able to test everyone who has symptoms,” Dr. Farnitano said. “We’re trying to prioritize our public health lab which can do rapid testing and get results in 24 hours or less to those folks we’re most concerned about.”

“The private labs can test anyone who has symptoms,” he continued. “The more folks we test with symptoms then the more we’re going to be able to understand the spread within our community, and more able to isolate more effectively those who test positive.”

“More confirmed cases does not mean we are losing ground,” he stated. “It means we are sharpening our focus and gathering data that will help us through this emergency.”

“As always, the best way to protect yourself is to practice good hygiene and social distancing,” Farnitano shared. “Because COVID-19 is new humans have no immunity to it and there is no vaccine.”

He then repeated the ways to protect yourself, such as washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face.

“If you are ill, it is imperative you stay home, even if you’re an essential worker,” Dr. Farnitano concluded.

Candace Andersen, Chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors spoke next.

“We recognize this order is disruptive. We would not ask any of you to do this if we didn’t think it was important,” she said. “During this difficult time, we are continuing to provide county services, virtually. We have county employees working from home, remotely, in offices and away from the public who can still assist you. Please go to the county’s website at for the most updated information resources.”

“I want to assure you that Contra Costa is doing all it can to slow the spread of the coronavirus and reduce its impact,” Andersen continued. “The county’s emergency operations center has been activated and is slowing the virus and is now the primary focus of our local government actions in Contra Costa.”

“You can visit or call our help line at 1-844-729-8410 if you have any questions about this order and the virus,” she added.

Dr. Farnitano encouraged county residents to go out and exercise and take a hike in the East Bay parks.

“We do want to encourage people to get outside and exercise and enjoy our beautiful, natural setting in the East Bay,” he said. “Go out with your friends, your family, go on a hike, but stay six feet apart. So, do it safely.”

Asked about local enforcement and people going outside, “It’s certainly not recommended unless you can really do it from a safe distance,” Andersen responded, “It’s up to each city to make a determination with regard to enforcement.”

Specifically, about golfing she said, it’s up to each city “whether or not to say you can’t golf or not.”

“Clearly if you’re golfing with members of your household and you’re staying six feet apart from everyone else, I think that works,” Andersen shared. “But if you’re meeting up with your buddies and you all live in different households and you’ve all been out doing your essential shopping and other things, you have a good chance of spreading the virus, if you get together in that close circumstance. We expect people to use their good judgment and take this seriously.”

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Dr. Chris Farnitano 3-20-20

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