Continuing to coordinate with other Bay Area counties to determine when more loosening will occur; “Contra Costa is not an island” – Dr. Chris Farnitano
By Allen Payton
In light of Governor Newsom’s recent loosening of the rules on some businesses, including allowing florists to reopen as of today, Friday, May 8, 2020, Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano was asked several questions about what appears to be a positive trend and therefore why he’s not following the state’s lead.
The number of cases of those with COVID-19 in hospitals in the county peaked around April 14 at 47 and has continued to drop to just 16 as of today. Other statistics on the Contra Costa Health Services Coronavirus Dashboard also show decreases in almost all of the statistics tracked. The only statistic that continues to increase is the number of new cases, which is currently at 1,015. But, the dashboard doesn’t currently show how many of the 1,017 people who have tested positive in our county have recovered. The total number of deaths is currently at 29 and hasn’t increased since Monday, May 4.
Q: How many have recovered? When will we see that statistic on the Contra Costa Health website?
Dr. Farnitano: We’re waiting for the state and the CDC for a definition. Most people recover within 14 days. So, we’re working on a definition that if It’s been 14 days, you’re not in the hospital, and not dead, you’ve recovered. The data team that works on the website, we’re hoping to next week have that statistic on the website. Marin County is using something similar to that.
Q: With the continued reduction in numbers of those with the virus in the hospital in our county, do you see we are heading in the right direction?
Dr. Farnitano: We are definitely heading in the right direction. It’s both decreasing hospital numbers and decreasing the number of new cases. That gave us confidence in allowing all construction and all outdoor and most outdoor recreation, this past Monday. It takes two or three weeks to see after things are loosened up if cases don’t start to increase, again. So, there’s a little bit of a lag. We really haven’t seen the effects of the health order change on May 3rd.”
Q: Asked specifically about why he wouldn’t allow florists to reopen in time for Mother’s Day and what’s the difference if they use curbside delivery and everyone’s wearing their masks, he responded, “grocery stores are essential businesses, but florists are not. Essential businesses are allowed to sell non-essential items.”
Q: Why can’t you follow the lead of the governor?
Dr. Farnitano: We’re trying to work together (with the other Bay Area counties). Contra Costa is not an island and there’s lots of travel for work and shopping with Alameda County. What’s happening in Alameda County and San Francisco affects Contra Costa. The other counties’ statistics aren’t as good as Contra Costa County’s.
Q: If things are looking good in the next few weeks is it possible the shelter in place order can end on May 31st?
Dr. Farnitano: If we keep trending in the right way we can have more loosening.
Q: Asked if he’s been adding new criteria and raising the bar or just being more specific about what was already in place?
Dr. Farnitano: Some of it’s being more specific. There’s got to be a lot of social distancing requirements to open back up the economy. Wearing masks and social distancing are going to be in place for quite a long time, in order to open back up shopping and dining.
Q: What about churches opening for services, again?
Dr. Farnitano: The state has more details for their phases. In-person church gatherings and other public gatherings, they have in their Phase Three. A local order can’t allow anything looser than the state.
Q: On a more personal note, did you ever think you would have to use your authority to deal with something other than a temporary shelter in place order for something such as a chemical release?
Dr. Farnitano: I actually became a deputy health officer about five years ago. One of the health officers at that time who trained me told me, “there are tremendous powers in the health officer. Try not to use them and use them very wisely.” One of the main purposes of the statutory authority is for outbreaks and diseases. This is such an overwhelming event that it’s much more than I did really ever sort of plan for or expect. Ever since the H1N1 we’ve had these pandemic outbreak plans and that these social distancing tools would be one of the most effective tools. We didn’t expect this to go on so long. Farnitano has also been personally affected by the shelter-in-place order, as he had to watch his middle son get married in Georgia via Facebook Live, last week.
“When Chris makes decisions that affect us, it weighs heavy on him,” shared Kim McCarl, Contra Costa Health Communications Officer.
With the increase in tests at eight different drive-up or walk-up sites, for anyone in the county who wants one, regardless if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus, “that will help us get the economy open quicker,” she said. (See related article).
For more statistical details about COVID-19 in Contra Costa County visit https://www.coronavirus.cchealth.org/.