Encouraging COVID-19 data prompts county health order update

Encouraging COVID-19 data prompts county health order update
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By Kathy Chouteau

A leveling off of COVID-19 transmissions in Contra Costa County during August has prompted slight changes to the current health order, according to Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS).

August data indicates COVID-19 daily hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests in the county remained steady or fell slightly during the early part of the month, pointing to local progress in slowing the virus’ spread. Although key pandemic data indicators remain at dangerously high levels in Contra Costa, they are not increasing with the rapidity they did in June and July.

As a result, effective Friday, Aug. 28, the county is implementing small changes to its social distancing health order to permit certain business sectors to commence outdoor operations.

Per CCHS, personal care services that do not involve close facial contact, i.e. nail salons and massage, can begin operating outdoors in accordance with the state-issued industry guidelines and checklist; gyms and fitness centers can begin operating outdoors in alignment with their own state guidelines and checklist; and countywide hotels and short-term rentals may open for personal or recreational travel, not solely for essential business purposes.

So far there have been no reported outbreaks associated with hair salons and barbers, which have previously been permitted to perform limited work outdoors in the county, officials said.

In the meantime, previous health orders remain in effect and CCHS urges residents to continue to wear face coverings, follow social distancing guidelines and to stay home if they are sick.

CCHS reports that the seven-day rolling average number of patients hospitalized with the virus in the county dropped from 103 on Aug. 5 to 96 on Aug. 24. Meanwhile, the average percentage of countywide tests that came back positive fell from 8.8 percent on Aug. 6 to 7.4 percent on Aug. 24.

Currently, Contra Costa remains on the California Department of Public Health’s county monitoring list.

According to CCHS, “while recent issues at the state level skewed local testing data in late July and early August, CCHS has confidence in data related to hospitalization and number of new positive cases because they are directly reported to the county by local health providers and clinics.”

Amid news of the updated health order, CCHS cautioned businesses to consider adjusting reopening plans due to poor air quality caused by the Northern California wildfires. A County health advisory has been issued regarding the smoke and encourages residents to stay inside whenever possible with doors and windows closed. Visit the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for air quality updates and forecasts.

“Based on what we are able to see, we can be cautiously optimistic that there is a gradual downward trend in county cases, testing positivity rates and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, County health officer. “We need everyone to understand this is a reason to keep up what we are doing and not let down our guards.”

More info about the updated health order can be found at cchealth.org/coronavirus.