(Photo illustration via Prachatai.com/Flickr)

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday issued an urgent plea with residents to curtail Thanksgiving gatherings, to continue with COVID-19 prevention basics like wearing face coverings and social distancing, and to remain vigilant amidst “COVID fatigue.”

The calls to help limit the spread of the virus comes while the county has an average of 9.2 new COVID-19 cases per week — double the rate of just one week ago — and a tripling of coronavirus-related hospitalizations since Oct. 16.

“If you gather, keep it safe, keep it short and keep it stable,” Anna Roth, Contra Costa County’s health director, told the supervisors (and the public) Tuesday morning. That means gatherings of 15 or fewer people, outside if at all possible, and for two hours or less.

Roth said that hospitalizations in Contra Costa County have gone up from 21 on Oct. 16 to 48 on Monday, and then to 63 on Tuesday, an increase of 15 in one day. That, she said, is alarming.

Contact tracing efforts, Roth said, show family gatherings are the fourth-most prevalent source of new COVID-19 transmissions.

The leading source, Roth said, continues to be within “congregate living facilities” like senior care homes. The third leading source of transmission is restaurants, she said.
The second-most common source of COVID-19 transmissions? Unknown, literally, Roth said.

“It’s so common now in our communities that people can’t be sure where they got it,” Roth told the supervisors.

Thanks to a surge in new coronavirus cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that 41 of California’s 58 counties — Contra Costa among them — would go into the “purple tier” in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan, the most restrictive level in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective Tuesday.

Newsom called this large-scale regression “pulling an emergency brake” and “sounding the alarm” about the critical state of affairs regarding the coronavirus.

Just seven days earlier, on Nov. 10, Contra Costa had moved from the “yellow tier” into the “red tier.” And by Friday, the county had already ordered business and social-gathering restrictions that come with the purple tier.

Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa’s health officer, said that given the recent increases in both case numbers and positive-test rates, it’s likely that the county’s COVID-19 numbers will surpass summertime high levels before Thanksgiving.

The situation, Farnitano said, has already fatigued front-line health care workers in Contra Costa “tired, exhausted and looking at the incoming wave with anxiety.”

Better news, he said, are the encouraging reports on two COVID-19 vaccines that, in tests so far, appear to be effective. County officials do not know when the vaccine will come to Contra Costa, but county health officials have been testing their distribution system with the flu vaccine.

In the meantime, Farnitano said, COVID-19 testing is encouraged, especially ahead of the holidays. Farnitano mentioned Tuesday’s “Testing Before Turkey” event at the county’s Public Health Clinic in Concord as one way the county can do that needed outreach.

Farnitano advised that Contra Costa residents “hunker down, stay at home, wear masks and avoid gatherings to get through the dark winter to a glorious vaccine spring.”