California workers will be required to wear a mask, even if they are fully vaccinated, if they are in a room with an unvaccinated co-worker.(Photo by Russ Allison Loar/Flickr)

Contra Costa County health officials are working to address elevated COVID-19 case rates in several communities, with more testing and an outreach effort to speak directly to those residents either already happening or planned.

Anna Roth, the county’s health director, and county Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano, told county supervisors this week that while the county’s overall COVID-19 positive testing rate is declining (4.7 percent as of Wednesday), and that new daily cases have been declining steadily countywide since mid-July even with increased testing, there are still trouble spots.

Roth said there is specific concern about the city of San Pablo in western Contra Costa (4,100 cases per 100,000 population), and the unincorporated community of Bay Point in East County (3,423 cases per 100,000 people). Other Contra Costa County locations with COVID-19 case counts that worry health officials include Antioch, Richmond, El Cerrito and Pacheco.

Farnitano said the harder-hit communities are generally home to more essential services workers and service-industry workers on the front lines with the public; often live in relatively crowded households and tend to be “communities of color.”

Hispanics have been hardest hit in Contra Costa County, with Contra Costa Health Services data showing that while Hispanics make up 26 percent of the county’s population, they comprise 43 percent of the county’s confirmed cases.

“We are not the only (county) seeing this,” Roth said. Still, said Supervisor Federal Glover, whose District 5 includes Bay Point and Pittsburg, “Those are unacceptable numbers.” He asked Farnitano and Roth what is needed to make those numbers go down.

“They need more help, and that’s why we’re focusing more of our testing in these communities,” said Farnitano, also noting his department is working on more “pop-up” testing sites where they’re most needed.

Also in the works is a Spanish-language radio campaign to spread COVID-19 awareness, he said.

Roth said that the first group of 25 “youth ambassadors” is getting out into these harder-hit areas to also educate on ways to help avoid COVID-19 transmission. A second group of 25 ambassadors, she said, is expected to join the effort in October.

Roth said county health workers are now testing about 1,625 people a day for COVID-19, but that she wants that number to rise to 2,800 per day in the near future.

There has been good news too, Roth and Farnitano said, other than the drop in daily infection rates. Outbreaks in nursing homes and other “congregant care” facilities have been much smaller recently, one or two people, than the larger outbreaks reported in Orinda, Concord, Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill in June and July. Farnitano credits more uniform cleanliness and distancing protocols for the improvements.

Roth noted that an increasing percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases are among young people. The 19-to-30 age group has had the most confirmed cases within Contra Costa, and the 31-to-40 group the second-highest. But only a small handful of deaths have been among those ages 19 to 40, with the greatest number of deaths being those 71 to 90 years old.

Roth said the infection rate among the younger people is most likely attributed to that age group spending the most time at work, especially in “gig economy” jobs that put them in close contact with people.

As of this week, Contra Costa County is in the “purple tier,” the most restrictive, on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently instituted color-coded tier system placing counties into four tiers determining what types of businesses can operate and what other activities are allowed. Farnitano told the county supervisors Tuesday, “but we’re continuing to improve.”

If current trends in overall infection spread reduction continue, he said, Contra Costa could move into the “red” tier as soon as Sept. 22.