Mayoral Message

Face coverings the new normal; maintaining physical distance, while maintaining social connections essential

By March 15, the seven public health officers from Bay Area counties and the City of Berkeley had watched with alarm as COVID-19 spread through Wuhan, China, then devastated Italy where doctors were forced to ration ventilators. They knew they had to act quickly to avoid a similar outcome, so on March 16, they jointly issued the nation’s first shelter-in-place (SIP) order.

SIP has been a success because of residents’ compliance with this early action, according to Alameda County Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan. Initial projections, based on modeling, had predicted 20,000 to 30,000 COVID-related deaths among the Bay Area counties. Instead, there have been fewer than 400 deaths to date.

Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom modified the statewide stay-at-home order, transitioning into Stage 2 where businesses and activities are categorized as “low risk” or “high risk” (of transmitting the coronavirus). Lower-risk workplaces and activities, including retail, manufacturing, and logistics will be phased in, depending on a county’s readiness.

However, Alameda County won’t follow the Governor’s modified order immediately because the consequences of relaxing the SIP order too soon are steep. Dr. Pan says scientists are beginning to realize it is unlikely COVID-19 will be extinguished, and are instead focusing on suppression. 

But even suppression is challenging, because people can have and spread the disease without showing any symptoms. And, as we relax SIP, we must anticipate an increase in cases, even a secondary wave of the pandemic, and must protect our most vulnerable residents and healthcare workers.

For these reasons, Alameda County decisions will be based on five indicators introduced last week. They are: 1) total number of community cases is flat or decreasing; 2) number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is flat or decreasing; 3) 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all health care workers is secured; 4) testing needs are being met, especially for vulnerable populations and those in high-risk settings or occupations; and 5) having the capacity to investigate all COVID-19 cases, trace all contacts, isolate those who test positive and quarantine individuals who may have been exposed.

If you’re interested in volunteering to become a contact tracer, which requires a background check, email: log1@acgov.org.

It takes about two weeks to see shifts in the five indicators, so the earliest time lower-risk workplaces such as curbside pick-up from retail stores will reopen is mid to late May. For questions about re-opening or technical assistance, businesses can email: covidrecovery@acgov.org.

Under this phased approach, golf for individual golfers, with or without a golf cart and singles tennis are now allowed. But large sporting events, concerts and activities where big groups congregate will be the last to re-open. As a result, the Alameda City Council last week voted, regretfully, to cancel this year’s Fourth of July parade.

“Help us amplify [the message] that face coverings are the new normal,” says Dr. Pan, but masks are not a substitute for physical distancing of 6 feet from people not in your household. As we practice physical distancing, it is also important to maintain social connections.

Alamedans are succeeding at both. Last Friday night, while walking to Webster Street to pick up dinner, my husband and I passed several yard parties, a front lawn concert featuring a talented musicians and an outdoor movie being projected on a bedsheet screen hung from a porch. 

We also stopped to chat with a woman whose yard I’ve long admired. Most people were maintaining physical distance and wearing masks. By taking shelter-in-place seriously, the City of Alameda’s per capita rate of COVID-19 cases, which can be viewed at www.acphd.org, is among the lowest in the county. 

Let’s keep it that way! Be smart, be safe, be Alameda strong!
 

Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft is the Mayor of Alameda. She can be reached at 747-4745 or  
mezzyashcraft@alamedaca.gov.