MARTINEZ (CBS SF) — Health officials in Contra Costa County said Wednesday that slight declines in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and in positive COVID-19 test results reflect progress in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and are prompting a slight easing of some social distancing rules.

“Based on what we are able to see, we can be cautiously optimistic that there is a gradual downward trend in county cases, testing positivity rates and hospitalizations,” Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer, said in a statement from Contra Costa Health Services.

The seven-day average number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Contra Costa dropped slightly over the past three weeks, from 103 a day on Aug. 5 to 96 a day on Monday.

The average percentage of tests administered in Contra Costa that come back positive has fallen from 8.8 percent on Aug. 6 to 7.4 percent on Monday.

Given that improvement, Contra Costa County on Wednesday announced minor changes to its health order to allow certain business sectors to begin operating again outdoors. The changes, which take effect Friday, include:

  • Personal care services that don’t involve close contact with the face, including nail salons and massage, may begin operating outdoors in accordance with the state-issued industry guidelines.
  • Gyms and fitness centers may begin operating outdoors in accordance with their own state guidelines.
  • Hotels, motels and short-term rental units (like Vrbo or Airbnb) in Contra Costa may open for personal or recreational travel, not just for essential business purposes.

Hair salons and barbers have already been allowed, with permits, to perform limited work outdoors in Contra Costa County with no reported outbreaks.

In Alameda County, the health official last Friday issued a revised shelter-in-place order, also effective this coming Friday, which allows:

  • Opening of outdoor, shared public swimming pools and wading pools, with reduced capacities, lane limitations to allow for physical distancing, by appointment only (aquatic fitness classes allowed with restrictions)
  • Personal services providers including hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, skin care and waxing services, and non-medical massage, to provide services outdoors subject to applicable state and local rules.
  • Wineries with outdoor tasting facilities to provide tastings without meals. 

Contra Costa Health Services officials are careful to say, however, that while not increasing as was the case in June and July, key data indicators for the pandemic remain at dangerously high levels in Contra Costa County this month. 

“We need everyone to understand this is a reason to keep up what we are doing and not let down our guards,” Farnitano said.

Both Alameda and Contra Costa counties remain on the state Department of Public Health’s county monitoring list as of Wednesday.

Contra Costa health officials encourage businesses to also consider the area’s poor air quality, given all the smoke from the many wildfires in the region, when making reopening plans.

The smoky air may make doing business outdoors impractical, even unsafe, and the county has issued a health advisory about smoke, encouraging all residents to stay inside when possible with doors and windows shut.

Previous Contra Costa health orders remain in effect. Health officials urge residents to continue wearing face coverings when they go out or are near people outside their households; practice physical distancing; stay home from work or school when they do not feel well; and wash their hands thoroughly and often.

Details of the Contra Costa update, including the full text of the order, are available at cchealth.org/coronavirus. A summary of the Alameda County order can be seen at https://covid-19.acgov.org/covid19-assets/docs/shelter-in-place/20-14c-summary-eng.pdf.

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