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As number of confirmed cases reaches 29, Contra Costa County bans gatherings of 100 or more for March

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As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 29 on Saturday, Contra County County is temporarily banning mass gatherings, both public and private, of 100 or more people due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The ban, which was issued on the morning of March 14 by Contra Costa Health Services, is effective at 12 a.m. Sunday and will run through the end of March.

“We recognize this order is a departure from way most of us live our lives,” said Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli. “The health department would not ask you to make these changes if they were not very important.”

The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area is rising. The number of confirmed cases in Contra Costa County jumped from 25 to 29 Saturday, and Tzvieli said health workers expect to see more cases confirmed as commercial testing for the virus has become available locally.

“This order is based on evidence of increasing transmission of COVID-19 within Contra Costa County, scientific evidence regarding effective approaches to slow transmission of communicable diseases generally and COVID-19 specifically, and best practices as currently known and available to protect the public from avoidable risks of serious illness or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19,” the order reads.

This ban is likely to have a big impact on everything from theaters and clubs to churches and other places of worship, many of which have already had to make adjustments because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, the rule does not apply to “normal operations at airports or other spaces where person may be in transit; office environments; medical offices, hospitals or clinics; classrooms; or congregate living situations, including dormitories and homeless encampments.”

The order points out four specific reasons why it’s important to ban mass gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus:

1) Mass gatherings draw people from a broad geographic area.

2) Large numbers of people are in close proximity for a prolonged period of time.

3) It’s difficult to trace exposures at large events.

4) Difficult to ensure that people follow proper hygiene/social distancing practices.

Other counties and cities have issued similar decrees to try and protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

San Francisco, for one example, has just recently banned all gatherings of 100 or more people until April 30.

Tzvieli, at a news conference Saturday, pointed out that Contra Costa has the second-highest rate of confirmed cases, behind Santa Clara.

“We need to take steps to keep our community healthy and safe,” he said. “Because COVID-19 is new, humans have no immunity to it, and there is no vaccine.”

While the legal mandate is to ban gatherings of more than 100 people, Tzvieli said he and other doctors are encouraging no gathering of any size, especially for people who have increased risk levels such as old age, heart and lung disease, cancer, diabetes or hypertension.

Candace Andersen, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, said the board is “supportive” of the health officer’s decision to issue the ban, and will be supportive if the health department needs to extend it.

“By slowing its spread through responsible social distancing, we can anticipate a much better response,” Andersen said.

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