MARTINEZ, Calif. - Contra Costa County has issued a countywide health order requiring patrons to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test in restaurants, gyms, and other indoor businesses where there's elevated risk of spreading COVID-19.
The order goes into effect Sept. 22 and will require patrons to prove they're fully vaccinated, or have been tested within the previous three days.
Health officials say Contra Costa County has seen a severe spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations this summer, due to the increased prevalence of the highly infectious delta variant and unvaccinated residents.
While the worst of the latest spike has seemingly passed, Contra Costa County is still seeing daily case rates comparable to February. Between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31, there were 15 COVID-19-related deaths in the county. That number increased to 20 between Sept. 1 to Sept. 7.
"(We've seen) more than 15 deaths a week for three weeks straight, and that’s a terribly tragedy. And these deaths we’re seeing are people younger and younger, and they’re almost all in unvaccinated people, parents of children losing their lives in their 40s, 50s, 60s, devastating families," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county health officer.
County health officials estimate unvaccinated residents account for 95.9 percent of the county's deaths so far.
COVID-19 case rates are five times higher in unvaccinated county residents compared to fully vaccinated residents. Hospitalization rates are 16 times higher and death rates are approximately 22 times higher.
"This order is necessary now to save lives, protect our overburdened healthcare system, and slow the pandemic enough to keep our schools open," Farnitano said in a statement. "Reducing community transmission of the virus now is key to preventing future spikes in cases from overwhelming our county's hospitals during the winter months."
The new order applies to businesses where patrons remove masks to drink or eat indoors (including entertainment venues) and indoor fitness facilities, including yoga and dance studios, where Farnitano said heavy breathing can spread the virus more.
Residents who spoke to KTVU expressed support for the mandate.
"It helps everybody. We have to think of not just ourselves, but the community. So I’m totally fine with it," said Ken Simas, a Walnut Creek resident.
Simas doesn't think the mandate will stop people from visiting Walnut Creek, but he feels it is putting an unfair burden on businesses.
"They have to police it. It’s like when you deal with a disgruntled employee or a customer, how are they supposed to react? Kick them out? And that’s becoming an issue," said Simas.
Farnitano said the county is working on rolling out a toolkit, including signs and training exercises that businesses can use to explain the rules to patrons.
The order also requires workers in these indoor venues to show proof of being fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, or to test weekly.
Proof of vaccination includes showing photo ID and a vaccination record card from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), or copies or photos of the cards. Documentation from health care providers are also acceptable, as are digital vaccine records issued by the state of California.
People can visit myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov for a link to their digital vaccination and can go to cchealth.org/coronavirus for more information about the county health order or where to find a vaccination site in Contra Costa County.