Hold that beer: Contra Costa to postpone COVID-19 reopening timeline due to spike in cases, although expected

Decision on bars made Sunday; gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, arcades, hotels, museums, plus massage, body waxing and tattoo businesses will also remain closed

As Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) warned the public of the possibility on Friday, they have decided to delay the opening of businesses and activities previously planned for July 1 until the COVID-19 outbreak in Contra Costa is better contained.

The county is closely monitoring recent data showing COVID-19 activity increasing in the community, as it is statewide and throughout the country.

On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom recommended that Contra Costa County, along with several other counties in the state, not reopen bars. Contra Costa is one of 15 counties on the state’s County Monitoring List. The county’s timeline had previously cleared bars (with or without food), gyms, fitness centers, personal training, massage, nail salons, tattoo, body waxing and other personal services not involving the face, indoor dining, limited indoor leisure (arcades, billiards, bowling alleys, etc.), indoor museums and hotels for tourism & individual travel to reopen July 1.

When asked Sunday about the impact of Newsom’s recommendations, Kim McCarl, Communications Assistant for Contra Costa Health Services responded, “As you know, we released a statement on Friday indicating that we would make an announcement about our timeline going forward on Monday. That is still our plan.  Bars are not currently open in Contra Costa County. We appreciate the governor’s recommendation and will certainly take it into consideration as we determine next steps. We’ll have more tomorrow.”

However, Board of Supervisors Chair Candace Andersen told KPIX5 CBS News, on Sunday that “We were slated to open them on July 1, but given the governor’s announcement, we will definitely not be opening bars on July 1st,” citing contact tracing as one of the biggest challenges. “It is very difficult in a bar where you have lots of people interacting,” she continued. “Whereas in other settings, a workplace, even a hair salon where you know who’s coming, who’s going, where you can then alert them when they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.”

Asked if she and the board had the authority to make that decision or if it was still in the hands of County Health Director Dr. Chris Farnitano and why it wasn’t shared with all the media, yesterday, Andersen responded, “I spoke with Dr. Farnitano yesterday and he told me that while we were not making a determination about the other July 1 activities until today, he was going to recommend that we follow the Governor’s guidelines regarding not opening bars. Based upon that information, I responded to the media inquiries received.”

With the sharp rise in community spread and hospitalizations, it does not make sense at this time to open additional business sectors that could further accelerate community transmission. These businesses and activities will remain closed in Contra Costa until county data indicate that the spread of the virus has slowed, as measured by at least a week of stable case numbers, hospitalizations and percent of tests that are positive. Trends will be monitored and evaluated daily.

Decision Based on Statistics

The seven-day average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the county has increased by 75% from June 15 to June 29.

The seven-day average number of newly identified COVID-19 cases has increased from 38 a day to 87 a day. The percentage of COVID-19 tests that came back positive has also increased from 4% to 6%. This suggests the change is not simply due to more testing, but a true increase in community spread.

More Young People Testing Positive

We are also seeing a shift with more young people testing positive. In June, 55 percent of people testing positive in Contra Costa were 40 years and younger, compared to 38 percent for that group in April. It’s a sign that younger people are playing a major role in driving the increase in new cases and potentially infecting vulnerable individuals.

Many people who carry and spread the virus have no symptoms themselves. That is why it’s important for everyone to avoid social gatherings, observe physical distancing and wear masks or face coverings when around others.

Widespread testing is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we can safely reopen the economy. Testing is the only way to find out if you are carrying the virus and interrupt its spread. People can spread the virus without knowing they are sick.

While Contra Costa have seen an increase in the numbers of people being tested over the past several weeks, we highly encourage everyone who lives and works in the county to get tested, even if they have no symptoms.

This morning, CCHS opened its eighth community COVID-19 testing site at Kennedy High School in Richmond. To make an appointment for a fast, convenient, no-cost test at any site in Contra Costa, call 1-844-421-0804 or visit cchealth.org/coronavirus – online scheduling is available at most sites.

The following questions were sent to Board Chair Andersen and county health services communications staff immediately prior to publication time:

Can someone please ask Dr. Farnitano, with all the recent reopening and protests, in which many more than 100 people were in attendance and clearly not social distancing was not practiced, during the previous three weeks, wasn’t the increase in cases and percentages expected?

If so, then why punish everyone for the actions of a few?

Also, since the new cases aren’t overwhelming our hospitals and health care industry with only 38 hospitalized, today – which was the issue we were told from the beginning was the major concern in the need to flatten the curve – and we all know that cases will increase once more businesses are reopened and activities are allowed to resume, why the delay?

UPDATE: In response, McCarl wrote, “New cases are a precursor to increased hospitalizations. We’ve seen the number of people in hospital go up as the percent of tests coming back positive have gone up. The goal is to lower the percent of positive cases before they overwhelm the healthcare system. We do that by staying home, wearing face coverings, maintaining social distance and washing hands.

You are correct that we expect to see numbers go up. It’s the rate in which they are raising that concerns us. A month ago, the percent of positive tests was in the 2-3% range. As of this morning, it’s about 6%. Our goal was under 5%, the criteria for the state monitoring is 8%. The trend is concerning.

In the past three weeks, our contact tracers have identified only a very small number of people who attended any sort of large gathers. Small being low single digits. We are seeing it spread throughout the community so pointing to one group or activity gives others a false sense of security. We all have a part to play in stopping this trend.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

the attachments to this post:

Bar Re-Opening Postponed

CC Health Road Ahead July 1st Postponed 06-29-20

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