By all indications, Contra Costa County is emerging from the winter COVID-19 spike that started in mid-October and raged on through November, December and early January.

“We know that our daily case rate is starting to fall, which is a trend that we’re seeing in Contra Costa County,” said Anna Roth, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) director during the Feb. 2 Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors meeting. “We do feel that we’re on the back side of the winter wave.”

While there are strong signs of improvement, the county remains a long way from being out of the woods.

“The chance for another surge in California is real,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary for the California Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s still circulating, COVID is, in our communities. While our case rates are down, they’re not low.”

The number of new cases per day per 100,000 residents is one of the measures used to determine a county’s tier assignment within the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. When Gov. Gavin Newsom suddenly lifted the Bay Area’s regional shelter-in-place order last week, the county reverted to the purple, or most restrictive, tier in that plan. The same was true for 53 other counties in the state.

Currently reported at 28.1, the case rate peaked at 49.3 on Jan. 8. It remains more than four times higher than the level required for the county to enter into the less restrictive red tier. And while the current number has dropped 43% since early January, it is still significantly higher than the peak of 19 that occurred in mid-July during the summer spike.

The seven-day positivity rate, the measure of the percentage of positive test results over a rolling seven days, has dropped below the 8% threshold to qualify the county for assignment to the red tier. It is currently reported at 6.5%, down from a peak of 11.1% on Dec. 31. While the county meets this red-tier requirement, all requirements must be met before the county can have its assignment adjusted.

To date, the county has reported 57,812 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 531 resulting deaths.

As case rates fall, vaccinations are a key component in the county’s plan to gain control of the epidemic. Last month, CCHS announced its goal of administering 1 million vaccine doses by the Fourth of July.

“There is no higher priority in Contra Costa County than delivering COVID-19 vaccine to as many eligible residents as possible, as quickly as possible,” said Diane Burgis, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. “We believe this is a realistic goal, provided our supply of vaccine increases.”

There have been 131,593 doses administered since the first vaccine was given on Dec. 15, 2020. Nearly 50 vaccination sites have been established in the county and 110 temporary clinics in 17 locations have occurred. Still, county efforts have been hamstrung by supply problems. Officials have repeatedly said that the capacity to deliver vaccines outstrips the supply.

“We continue to have a scarce amount of vaccines moving into our community as well as the State of California,” said Roth. “This is not a Contra Costa-specific issue.”

The pending approval of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine will provide a needed boost to county stocks, said CCHS Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano. According to Farnitano, the county expects to receive 3,000 to 15,000 doses a week of the new vaccine. This will be in addition to the 15,000 - 20,000 weekly doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently flowing into the county.

Equity concerns in the distribution of vaccines have also emerged. Data available on the CCHS website shows that 11.8% of county residents over the age of 16 have received their first vaccine dose. However, there are notable variances in the distribution. Some communities have much higher vaccination rates like Diablo (19.6%), Walnut Creek (19.5%), Lafayette (16.2%) and Alamo (15.9%). In East County, rates are much lower with Brentwood (9.7%), Discovery Bay (8.7%), Antioch (6.9%), Oakley (6.6%), Bethel Island (5.8%) and (Byron 4.1%).

Dr. Ori Tzvieli, CCHS deputy health officer and COVID-19 operations chief, addressed equity concerns when he spoke to the board of supervisors on Feb. 2.

“Right now, residents of Richmond, Oakley, Bay Point, Bethel Island or Pittsburg who are interested in receiving the vaccine are more likely to receive an appointment than residents Walnut Creek, Danville or Orinda,” he said. “But we are seeing that we’re getting fewer requests for appointments from these cities like Antioch, Richmond and Pittsburg among the 75-plus age range. We are increasing our outreach to these hard-hit communities.”

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