Contra Costa and Sonoma counties remain the only two Bay Area counties that have not moved to the less restrictive red tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy after Solano and Alameda counties made the transition Tuesday, March 9.
Exactly when Contra Costa County will qualify for the easing of certain COVID-19-related restrictions is not known. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday morning that Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) Director Ana Roth expected the county would move to the red tier by the middle of next week. Roth’s comments were made during a presentation to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. But later in the day, the agency stepped back those comments due to changes made in the state’s criteria.
“Initially this morning we did think we would move to the red tier next week,” said Scott Alonso, CCHS spokesperson. “However, recent info from the state is requiring us to understand more what the state will do. The process is evolving and ever-changing.”
To qualify for the red tier, the county must report: an adjusted case rate less than or equal to seven new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents per day; a testing positivity rate less than or equal to 8% and an equity metric less than or equal to 8%. The equity metric is the test positivity rate in economically challenged areas of a county where the pandemic has had a disproportionately large impact. Further, the county must meet these qualifications for two consecutive weeks.
As of March 9, the county’s adjusted case rate is 7.9; the positivity rate is 2.9% and the equity metric is 4.7%.
There are other options for the county to advance to the red tier. Countywide positivity and equity rates must both be below 5% for two consecutive weeks, and the rates cannot have increased more than 5%.
The county may also benefit from the recently announced vaccine equity metric introduced by the California Department of Public Health. It will loosen the criteria for the four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy based on the number of vaccinations administered to persons in economically challenged areas. The tier criteria will ease when the state administers 2 million vaccine doses that qualify for the vaccine equity metric, and again when the state achieves a 4 million dose threshold. To date, the state has administered 1.9 million doses against the first goal of 2 million vaccine doses.
Vaccinations are a critical component of the county’s efforts to mitigate the threat of the novel coronavirus, but the supply of the vaccine has yet to meet demand. For the five days between Feb. 22 and 26, the county administered a daily average of 9,328 doses. For the five days between March 1 and 5, the daily average number of vaccinations was 6,615, a drop of nearly 30% week over week.
“Unfortunately, our vaccine allocations have been reduced in the past several weeks so we have not been able to offer as many first dose vaccination appointments,” Alonso said. “We have a very low no-show rate as residents who are scheduled for vaccine appointments have been overwhelmingly eager to get their vaccine.”
Nearly 250,000 residents of the county have received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, both of which require two doses for full effectiveness. Distribution of the COVID-19 equally across the county has also proven to be a challenge for health officials. Contra Costa Health Services data shows that seven of the 10 cities and towns with the lowest vaccination rates are in East County.
"East County has a younger population and a lower percentage of health care workers compared to the county as a whole, so initial phases of vaccine allocation did not reach as many East County residents,” Alonso said.
The county operates three East County vaccination clinics located in Bay Point, Pittsburg and Antioch. According to Will Harper, CCHS communications and media relations specialist, CCHS is working to expand its outreach in East County with a pilot program to help the farmworker community and mobile vaccination teams that are visiting low-income senior housing sites.
Additionally, fire agencies in the county are operating clinics with the cooperation of CCHS, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, local police and other organizations.
“We are providing support in all positions – vaccinators, management, logistics support – at the vaccination clinics and also supporting clinics in other locations in the county,” said Ross Macumber, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District battalion chief. “We are still dealing with supply issues, however, that expects to be alleviated soon with the manufactures scaling up production and the addition of a third vaccine brand. With the increase in vaccine availability coming soon, we hope to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”