Contra Costa County is slowly rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations to those age 65 and older, according to county officials. (Photo via Pete Linforth/Pixabay)

Front-line health workers and residents of senior care homes and other congregant-care facilities could be given the first COVID-19 vaccines in the next few weeks, as the earliest supplies are delivered, Contra Costa County health officials said Tuesday.

The sooner the better, they added, as COVID-19 infection numbers, infection rates and hospitalizations are rising dramatically in the county, as they are around the Bay Area and beyond.

The first vaccines coming to Contra Costa County figure to be the ones from Pfizer that will need to be frozen at temperatures of 100 below zero (Farenheit), Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano told county supervisors Tuesday.

But it could be months before the general public will be able to get COVID vaccine shots, he said, as shipments will start small. The first shipment is expected to be of about 10,000 doses.

Getting the general public immunized, Farnitano said, will be an “overwhelming logistical challenge,” but one that county health workers say that — unlike the COVID testing protocols that had to be created essentially from scratch — already has been tested for flu vaccines and other shots.

And because Contra Costa County has secured both its own deep-freezer and the use of similar freezers owned by others, it will likely be given a large share of that cold-loving Pfizer vaccine, which Farnitano said should mean the county will probably enjoy a plentiful supply relatively soon.

Anna Roth, the county’s health director, added that large health providers such as Kaiser Permenente and Sutter Health have “strong infrastructure” for giving vaccines to large numbers of people. She said that over the next few months, as more vaccine becomes available, more places to get shots will emerge.

In the meantime, Contra Costa health officials once again emphasized the importance of adhering to the basics of COVID-19 prevention — wearing face coverings, frequently washing hands, avoiding gatherings — as infections and hospitalizations surge.

“There is no safe setting to be close to other people outside of your household,” said Farnitano, who added that Contra Costa residents should leave their homes only for such things as groceries, medicines and medical care.

The current rate of 18.7 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 of county population represents a significant rise over just a few weeks ago, Roth said. On Tuesday, 138 people were hospitalized in Contra Costa County, and the number of hospitalizations is rising daily, Roth said.

Also, an average of 5.2 percent of people tested for COVID-19 come up positive, Farnotano said — and some parts of the county, including San Pablo and Bay Point, have had much higher positive test rates.

Those numbers are already starting to put a strain on local hospitals. And though the Bay Area is in less dire circumstances than many other parts of California, Farnitano said the infection and hospitalization numbers here constitute an emergency. “We haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” he said.

The skyrocketing rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations comes as other illnesses, including the flu, are at their usual high winter-time levels.

The Craneway Pavilion in Richmond could be reactivated in as little as a couple of days as a treatment center for relatively low-level COVID-19 patient care, Farnitano added.

County Supervisors Diane Burgis and John Gioia said they believe teachers in school districts with formal reopening plans should be granted priority for COVID-19 vaccines as “essential workers.” Vaccinating the teachers, they said, would help schools reopen faster.