The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors took action this week to slow the pandemic’s growth by implementing fines for those violating county health orders.
Drawing on emergency powers under state law, the board unanimously passed Urgency Ordinance No. 2020-21 on Tuesday, July 28. Effective immediately, it establishes administrative fines for violations of public health orders pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people are following the health orders, but we need to increase our efforts together to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Supervisor Candace Andersen, board chair. “To further our progress to protect lives and reopen more local businesses and activities, we need a tool to send a fair message that everyone has to adhere to health orders to prevent the spread of the virus.”
For the last four weeks, Contra Costa County has added an average of more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per week — an indication that the county has yet to get a handle on the spread of the disease.
A press release issued by the board said the ordinance serves as an alternative to criminal enforcement of public health orders. It will augment the ability of the county and other local agencies to ensure compliance with public health orders intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.
A health order violation involving noncommercial activities carries a $100 fine for the first violation. The fine for a second violation is $200, and each subsequent violation will cost the violator $500.
For violations involving commercial activity, an initial violation will result in a $250 fine. A second fine brings a $500 fine, and the fee increases to $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation. If a violation continues for more than one day, each day is a separate violation.
An enforcement officer can issue a notice of violation before assessing a fine. It gives a person or business up to two days to correct a violation. Under the ordinance, an enforcement officer can skip the notice of violation and immediately assess a fine if the officer believes the notice of violation is unnecessary or unlikely to be ineffective.
“At this point we are continuing to educate,” Chief of Police Tom Hansen of the Brentwood Police Department said. “In the event we change to an enforcement approach we will get that information out to our community.”
Interim Police Chief Paul Beard with the Oakley Police Department (OPD) said his agency is taking a similar approach. According to Beard, citations won’t be issued unless the violations are blatant. OPD officers will instead make sure that violators are aware of the requirements of the county’s health order.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors passed this new ordinance on the same day that the county hit a new high of 105 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. On May 28 there were 11 patients in county hospitals suffering from a COVID-19 infection meaning that hospitalized patients have increased nearly 10 times – 1000% – in two months.
The county also reported a new high in the weekly number of COVID-19 cases. For the week ending July 25, the county added 1,356 cases – a 44% increase over the prior week during which 943 cases were added.
There were six pandemic-related deaths for the week ending July 25, the lowest number of deaths in a week since the middle of June. The first death related to COVID-19 was reported March 22. Since that time, there has only been one week with no reported deaths. That occurred at the end of May. The highest number of deaths occurring in a week was 18 during the week ending June 20. With four fatalities reported July 27, the total number of deaths to date is 108.
According to county data, patients of long-term care facilities are bearing the brunt of the pandemic in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. While they represent only 7% of the total number of infections, they account for 71% of hospitalizations and 69% of deaths as of July 27. The county is currently managing COVID-19 outbreaks in 19 long-term care facilities. An additional 11 outbreaks have been resolved.
Locally, Antioch has reported 897 cases; Brentwood, 294; Oakley, 225; Discovery Bay, 68 and Bethel Island, 5. Over the last 14 days, Brentwood and Discovery Bay have seen their caseloads grow by 37% and 38%, respectively. Antioch’s cases over the same period have grown by 33%, and Oakley’s cases have increased by 31%.
Amid the backdrop of surging COVID-19 cases statewide, California Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) is calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to roll back reopenings that have occurred over the last weeks and reinstitute a shelter-in-place order.
“With this crisis on the verge of spiraling out of control, the only question we should be asking is, ‘What will it take to lower infection rates?’” Glazer said. “At this point, we have no choice but to take tough measures, while we simultaneously act to help those in need. Our lives and our livelihood depend on us to move forward as Californians unified against this deadly virus.”
The Press will be taking a more in-depth look at Glazer’s proposal in the coming days.