Oakland city leaders worried social gatherings fueling COVID-19 surge

There is growing concern among Oakland city officials that a surge in COVID-19 cases is attributed to social gatherings. 

City leaders are worried that parties at Lake Merritt on weekends, may play a role in the rise of infections in East Oakland. 

New data released by Roots Community Health Center highlights a troubling trend, officials said. Data shows that in July, the number of COVID-19 cases related to people traveling and hanging out at parties and social gatherings has spiked to about 40% of the positive cases, that's double the rate of cases contracted in the workplace. 

"We should all be alarmed at the new data," said Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents the eastern side of Lake Merritt. "What we are seeing is an alarming spike in the cases of COVID. We are also seeing that much of that spike is because of gatherings and parties, including among young people."

Lake Merritt has always been used as a place for exercise and to relax, but Bas said it's time to give it a rest. She said that over the last few months, there has been increased activity at the lake as residents look for a reprieve with the COVID-19 pandemic stretching into summer. 

City officials said that activity is of grave concern as hospitalizations in Alameda County have doubled compared to recent months. 

Interim Alameda County Health Director Dr. Nicholas J. Moss said this weekend the county expects to reach 10,000 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, three times the number of cases in June. 

Moss said of the new cases, 65% of them are between the ages of 18 and 50. Health experts are also seeing racial and ethnic disparities persisting with Latinx residents more than six times likely to contract the virus and African-American residents twice as likely to die from the virus compared to white residents. 

"Social gatherings played a much larger role than we had expected," Moss said. "The virus continues to be widespread in our communities and gatherings are happening across the county. In homes, backyards, and parks. We've let our guard down." 

The risk of coronavirus transmission is lower outdoors, but Moss explained that if residents are crowding together and taking off their face masks, the higher the likelihood of infection. 

Roots Community Health Center CEO Dr. Noha Aboelata echoed those same sentiments saying, "Being outside is much safer, but even outside can be deadly if we're not careful."