By Sam Richards
(Thursday, Jan. 27) The shutdown of all GRF’s indoor facilities will continue through Feb. 8, and likely a few days beyond that, as the GRF Board today – by a split 5 to 4 vote – to follow a recommendation by the county’s public health director to keep Rossmoor’s indoor public gathering places closed in deference to the COVID-19 omicron variant.
The GRF Board, which is set to meet Feb. 8 for a major discussion on GRF capital projects, will now add the reopening discussion to that Feb. 8 agenda.
Following a presentation by Rossmoor CEO Tim O’Keefe, it took the Board 75 minutes to make its final decision on Jan. 27 to continue the closure. That decision came on the Board’s seventh motion.
Some Board members, including President Dwight Walker, Kathleen Stumpfel and Leanne Hamaji, said they favored reopening most of Rossmoor’s public spaces, including clubhouses, the art studios and the Fitness Center. Having large-scale events, Board members said, would still be problematic, given how easily the omicron variant spreads. Motions that would have reopened most areas, and those that would have reopened the Fitness Center and nothing else, all failed.
Allowing residents to use the Fitness Center, Hamaji said, helps keep Rossmoorians healthier in several ways, and not only by working out.
“People are leaving Rossmoor to exercise,” she said, adding they often are alongside those who are statistically the most infectious – people ages 19 to 40. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
Both Hamaji and Stumpfel asked why long-term-care centers and other congregant care facilities for seniors have been allowed to stay open, and GRF leaders have been advised to close communal areas. And Stumpfel said that if residents are uncomfortable being in gathering places, they wouldn’t have had to go to them.
“People who have existing problems are already cautious,” she said.
One public commenter who supported reopening, Carol Lehr, expressed to the Board a similar idea. “Rossmoor residents are responsible adults; we should be able to make our own decisions about whether to go to the library or the Fitness Center.”
But most Board members agreed with a recommendation shared Jan. 26 with O’Keefe by Dr. Ori Tzvieli, Contra Costa’s public health director, to keep GRF’s indoor gathering places closed until at least Feb. 14.
“I am not comfortable opening up everything with the current rate of infections going on,” Board member Ted Bentley said. “I don’t want to put myself in a position where I could get something and not know what the long-term results are.”
“The science is telling us that Valentines Day would be a heck of a lot better” for a reopening than this week, said GRF Board member Paul Moderacki. He also said he knows people who were infected by the omicron variant, and that their symptoms have been unpleasant and long-lasting.
“I would hate to bring that upon anybody,” Moderacki added.
Board members Bentley, Moderacki, Carl Brown, Neva Flaherty and Mary Hurt voted to extend the shutdown to Feb. 14; Walker, Stumpfel, Hamaji and Dale Harrington voted no.
The GRF Board first enacted the closures during an emergency executive session on Jan. 7, after more than two hours of discussion, voting unanimously to shut down communal indoor facilities starting Jan. 10 through Jan. 31. That vote was in response to escalating case rates and hospitalizations in Contra Costa County brought on by the highly transmissible omicron variant. The original shutdown also was suggested by Tzvieli, citing Rossmoor’s vulnerable senior demographic.
At a subsequent meeting on Jan. 18, the GRF Board reiterated its earlier decision to shut down indoor facilities until at least Jan. 31.
The Contra Costa Health Services’ COVID-19 data dashboard indicates that the most recent surge peaked on Jan. 10, with a rolling seven-day average that day of 2,735.6 new cases per day. That number had dropped by Jan. 27 to 1,785 new cases per day.
That number, while clearly trending downward, “is not downward enough,” Bentley said Jan. 27. And even the improved numbers of this week were still far higher than the August case spikes in the county.
And CCHS said that, as of Jan. 27, Contra Costa’s community transmission level was classified as “high,” the most serious of four levels. And though the county dashboard reports that the 19- to 40-year-old age group has reported by far the most new COVID cases in the past 30 days, of the 30 COVID-related deaths in Contra Costa over those 30 days, 18 of were over the age of 60. Twenty-five of the 30 who died were unvaccinated.
Even though it is people younger than 60 who have the highest case rates, O’Keefe reiterated that it is mostly people over 60 – Rossmoor’s demographic – who have been getting seriously ill and dying from COVID.