By Sam Richards and Ann Peterson
(Friday, Jan. 14) At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the GRF Board with review the status of county-wide COVID transmissions and determine whether to re-open or extend the closure of indoor facilities in Rossmoor.
At the urging of Contra Costa’s health officer, the Board decided in executive session on Friday, Jan. 7 to close all indoor facilities until Jan. 31.
Directors will review that decision in its open session Tuesday at 9 a.m. The meeting will be held on Zoom (Link: https://tinyurl.com/mr3p87r2). Residents interested in speaking during the Residents Forum can do so by following these directions.
Also during the meeting, the Board will review capital projects and the machinery and equipment budget for 2022. They will vote on only three urgent projects. The others will be voted upon during the Board’s regular meet on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
(Thursday, Jan. 13) While the COVID-19 omicron variant responsible for the Jan. 10 closure of indoor public gathering spaces in Rossmoor has emerged fast and hard, a Contra Costa County health official said he is hopeful the threat from this highly transmissible strain will diminish just as quickly sometime in February.
“Delaying things by a month or so seems like the prudent course of action,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county’s public health director, in an interview last week. “Any gathering with 10 or 20 people is likely to include somebody with COVID; now is not the time to have indoor activities.”
The nature of omicron, Tzvieli said, has presented health officials with different issues from the delta variant or previous strains. Omicron has been more easily transmissible, meaning more people have been infected with this variant than the others. Health experts also say it appears omicron is more resistant to vaccines than previous variants.
“So many people have been hit at once,” said Tzvieli, acknowledging omicron’s fast spread.
But he and other health officials say it appears omicron is making fewer people seriously ill. Tzvieli said people testing positive for omicron are 70 to 80% less likely to end up hospitalized than those who contracted the delta variant.
But so many are contracting omicron, he said, that there are still significant numbers of people being hospitalized – 176 COVID patients occupied hospital beds in Contra Costa on Jan. 11, a 92% jump over the previous week.
Health care workers are under considerable strain, Tzvieli said. A significant number of them are either sick with COVID themselves or in quarantine because someone near them is sick. And the COVID patients are in addition to many people hospitalized with non-COVID-related illnesses, he added.
“There is a staffing crisis in many of our hospitals right now,” Tzvieli said.
That is a key reason Contra Costa Health Services will likely not open a COVID testing pop-up in or near Rossmoor in the immediate future.
“I wish we had the capacity for that,” said Tzvieli, adding that other health care providers, including Kaiser Permanente and John Muir Health, have been ramping up testing and vaccinations.
On Jan. 7, the GRF Board voted in a closed executive session to shut down indoor facilities through Jan. 31 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID, especially given how transmissible the omicron variant is. The Board is scheduled to revisit that decision at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18 (Zoom link: https://tinyurl.com/mr3p87r2) and again at its regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 27.
As with any strain of COVID, seniors figure to struggle the most with omicron, Tzvieli said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says seniors are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID than are younger people.
The CDC says that while vaccinated seniors have significantly better outcomes than those who aren’t vaccinated, COVID-19 is still a threat to them. The CDC says seniors’ immune systems typically aren’t as good at producing antibodies – proteins made by the immune system to fight infections like viruses – as are those of younger people.
High vaccination and booster rates among seniors are a key preventative measure, Tzvieli said, but no vaccine is 100% effective, and “breakthrough” cases involving vaccinated people do occur.
Nevertheless, the CDC says vaccines (and boosters) remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, to slow its transmission, and to reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. Face masks also help both keep the wearer more safe and reduce transmission to others, the CDC says.
Here are a few questions and answers about COVID-19 and omicron in Rossmoor:
Q: Why was the closure decision made in executive session instead of a public meeting?
A: The GRF Board was responding to the fast spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations in Contra Costa, as well as a recommendation Tzvieli made to Rossmoor CEO Tim O’Keefe to cancel all indoor activities in the valley because of the community’s senior population.
As with the initial shutdown in March 2020, which also occurred after a vote in executive session, the Board decided to act on the emergency by calling an executive session. There also wasn’t enough time to notify members about a special meeting because under GRF bylaws, notices for these meetings must be provided in writing at least 10 days in advance.
The Board also had the Jan. 18 meeting already on the calendar, where it planned to hear comments from residents and reassess its decision.
Q: Did the GRF Board consider options other than closing facilities?
A: Yes, the Board also considered requiring that N95 masks be worn by staff, residents and their guests in all GRF facilities, following the CDC’s updated mask recommendation.
That option would have required time to order enough masks for staff and verifying that the right masks were being worn at activities and events. It also would not have addressed the increased person-to-person contact, and possible exposure, which have driven up cases and required more testing, straining test sites and leading to a scarcity of at-home COVID tests.
Q: Are there any indoor facilities in Rossmoor that will remain open?
A: The Creekside Grill is the only public gathering space within Rossmoor that will remain open during the current closure order, Jeff Matheson, Rossmoor’s director of resident services, said in an email.
“GRF leases the space to Creekside Grill. The current county mandates do not require restaurants to close,” Matheson said. “GRF does not want to jeopardize an independent business. The restaurant is independently required to follow and implement all health regulations.”
The golf courses will remain open, but the Golf Shop will not be accessible. Instead, golf personnel will be stationed outside the Golf Shop to check in golfers.
The Lawn Bowling Mat House at Hillside will be closed for meetings and events but will remain open to access the equipment for outdoor play.
Standalone restroom facilities will also remain open during the shutdown.
Q: Where are these open standalone restrooms located?
A: These are behind the multipurpose rooms at Gateway, behind the Dollar pool, at the Buckeye tennis courts’ parking lot, at Sportsmen’s Park and adjacent to the golf course.
Q: With the Gateway Clubhouse closed, where can expired pharmaceuticals and discarded sharps be disposed of?
A: With the clubhouse’s disposal kiosks off-limits again until at least the end of January, expired or unused drugs can be taken to CVS stores at 1960 Tice Valley Blvd. just outside Rossmoor, or at 3625 Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette; at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center at 1425 S. Main St. in downtown Walnut Creek or the police department at City Hall, 1666 North Main St. in downtown.
Used sharps can be taken to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Station 15 at 3338 Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette, or Station 7 at 1050 Walnut Ave. in Walnut Creek, where there are self-service drop boxes near the stations’ front doors.
Q: Why are Tice pools considered indoors when the roof and windows can be opened?
A: Tice pools also shut down last September when health restrictions tightened to include closure of all indoor swimming pools. At that time, Matheson explained, “The Department of Environmental Health classifies Tice as an indoor pool facility despite the fact the roof retracts and windows are open on three sides.”
Based on that classification, the GRF Board included Tice pools in its shutdown order for all indoor facilities in Rossmoor.
“Also, the pool has access to the locker rooms, and it is difficult to section off the Fitness Center,” Matheson added.
Q: Are outdoor public gathering areas still open?
A: Yes, several outdoor spaces where people can congregate remain open. These include the two golf courses, the tennis courts at Buckeye, the pickleball courts at Creekside, the Dollar pool (which is reopening with the closure of the Tice pools), the bocce courts at Sportsmen’s Park, the lawn bowling greens adjacent to the Hillside Clubhouse and Peacock Plaza at Gateway. The picnic grounds at Dollar, Sportsmen’s Park and Shady Glenn also are open. The Hillside Pool is closed pending upcoming renovation, however.
And health experts say wearing a face mask is important during gatherings of people either indoors or out, especially if those people are in close contact with one another. While the spread of COVID-19 is less likely in an outdoor setting, the omicron variant is so transmissible that anyone in close contact with others, even outdoors, is advised to wear a mask.