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County COVID-19 spike attributed to gatherings

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Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter

"Cancel or avoid gatherings this week," Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas urged the public at the Nov. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting, noting that lowering the transmission of the coronavirus is vital to businesses staying open and children staying in school.

A spike in COVID-19 cases countywide means Ventura County could revert from its current red tier to its most-restrictive purple tier as early as Nov. 17 or Nov. 24. That would result in more restrictions on businesses, gyms and religious services.

The county had an adjusted case rate of 7.2 new cases per day per 100,000 residents Nov. 12. To remain in the red tier, it must maintain a case rate of 7.0 or below.

“We know it’s really, quite frankly, a punch in the gut to the community who’s been working so hard,” said County CEO Mike Powers. “But, having said that, we are going to wage, along with you, an all-out battle to protect our community and to try to keep us in red and keep our community safe.”

Powers said the county needs to have more people get tested for COVID-19. The state determines its adjusted case rate based on the volume of testing in each county. In recent weeks, many Northern California counties have exponentially increased their testing, skewing these numbers in the wrong direction for Ventura County.

“We’re using just barely 10 percent of the (testing) capacity that we have,” Powers said, noting there are 14 free testing sites countywide. (See full page ad on Page A5 for locations.)

Vargas said the county will petition the state through a data adjudication request to delay the county formally entering into the purple tier by an additional week (to Nov. 24).

 

“But clearly, not just due to the change in the adjustment factor, our numbers were headed in the wrong direction,” Vargas continued. “So that basically means that the virus is well and present and circulating in Ventura County.”

Vargas said gatherings are the biggest factor in the spread of COVID-19, noting “examples of folks going out and gathering in large groups, large parties with live music, wedding receptions with 200 to 300 people in attendance at a reception. Right now, receptions are not allowed in our county, even in the red tier.”

With Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon, the county emphasized the importance of avoiding gatherings. He added that county government is trying to clamp down on gatherings through social-host ordinances, fines and other means.

The state’s guidance on gatherings prohibits more than three households from gathering, including hosts and guests. It also says that the households that you interact with should be stable over time, rather than gathering with multiple different households.

The state also says gatherings should be held outdoors with mask wearing. To view the state’s guidance on gatherings, visit https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Guidance-for-the-Prevention-of-COVID-19-Transmission-for-Gatherings-November-2020.aspx.

Powers said the transmission is coming mostly from gatherings, not businesses. “So the fact that the health order is really focusing on that, we don’t think is fair. It’s exacerbated when now you see that we might move back into a more restrictive tier through no fault of these businesses, who are really complying at an amazing rate.”

Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said: “We are no longer reading the news, we are making the news,” explaining that county residents “need to take personal responsibility” to do a better job social distancing to cut down the opportunities for COVID-19 to spread.

He told the supervisors it is good news that 11 COVID-19 vaccines are in late-stage trials with the news reported Nov. 9 that Pfizer has a vaccine that is 90% effective in Phase 3 trials.

Challenges with the vaccines are that they will require subzero temperature storage and that most require two injections given three weeks apart. He explained that a Ventura County task force is working on vaccine preparation, logistics, supplies and protocols.

 

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