Marin County fears complacency against COVID-19

As Labor Day approaches, health officials are warning against COVID complacency.

"Let's not celebrate in ways that jeopardize our progress," said Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis.

"When it comes to Labor Day, think small, think remote, think outside, and virtual celebrations are great."

Marin, in line with most of the state, experienced a coronavirus downturn from July to August. 

"August was a much better month for us, with case counts reduced by half, fewer deaths, and fewer outbreaks," said Willis."But we really need to be at our best for September to maintain those gains."

With concerted effort, outbreaks were curbed at San Quentin prison, several nursing homes, and in San Rafael's Canal District neighborhood.

But as new cases slow and positivity rates drop, Willis worries about complacency.

"We are still vulnerable to losing the gains we have made if we relax too quickly, and we saw that happen in the month of June, so it's a lesson for approaching September." 

The lighter caseload has been noticed by Marin County's contact tracers. 

"When I started there was a long backlog but since then we've gradually caught up with everything, " said Jill Aggersbury, a retired nurse who volunteers with Public Health, working from home. 

"Do you have any symptoms yourself?'", she asks a woman, who she has just informed of a positive test result.

Aggersbury is one of about 70 Marin contact tracers: part detective and part counselor.

Working from clinic lists, they call those infected, inquire about symptoms, quiz them about people they might have exposed, and determine what they need to stay isolated.

"We might ask, 'Do you need food, do you have food, can somebody bring you some, do you have friends or relatives in the area?"

Aggersbury admits contact tracing can be complex and stressful. 

"You need a lot of empathy, understanding, and you need to be low-key," she explained.

But she plans to keep sleuthing, as tracing helps curb the spread in a tangible way.

"I can use my nursing experience, my knowledge, and I'm an older person, at home without family here, so I enjoy doing it."

Under California's new tier system, each county is re-evaluated weekly and can move forward or back on re-openings.

"It really is in our hands collectively, and it's all of our responsibility," said Dr. Willis.

Because of August strides, September is ushering in new activities.

Hair service moved indoors this week, and dining may follow next week.

Should trends continue, children may even be able to re-enter classrooms in a month or so.

But much depends on the upcoming holiday, and whether it is followed by an infection uptick.

"Socialize with your household, maybe your small social bubble, be outdoors, social distance, and just don't take it too far," said Willis.