(Photo via Phil Murphy/Flickr)

As of Monday, there were approximately 10,000 appointments available for eligible Contra Costa County residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But with the county getting about 1,000 appointment requests per hour and incoming vaccine shipments not yet up to full speed, there may still be waits for many people seeking vaccination, county health officials told supervisors Tuesday.

All that comes before the more communicable “452R” variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Contra Costa County.

But county Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said the current stay-at-home order has allowed Contra Costa to avoid the fate of counties in Southern California, where hospital intensive care unit capacity has been at or near zero over the past several weeks. In Contra Costa, he said, that number has fluctuated between 3 and 8 percent.

“It is my hope we’ll still avoid altogether the scenario of our hospitals being totally overwhelmed,” Farnitano said. “It does highlight how important it is to continue to do the things we’ve been doing all along,” including social distancing, wearing face coverings, frequently washing hands and avoiding crowds, Farnitano said.

Taking those steps, he said, will decrease infections and, thus, hospitalizations, and it is decreased hospitalizations that will result in stay-at-home orders being lifted. That, in turn, will allow more businesses, schools and public events to reopen and resume activities.

All that said, Contra Costa, and the Bay Area, are in the midst of what Farnitano and Anna Roth, Contra Costa Health Services’ director, called the third, and so far worst, surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 52,965 cases reported in Contra Costa County to this point, almost a third of them were reported in December. The county has, as of Monday, reported 450 deaths so far.

More positive news, Roth said, was that, by the end of this week, almost 90 percent of people living in Contra Costa senior care homes with at least 30 residents will have been vaccinated. These residents, along with other residents 65 or older, front-line medical workers and employees of senior care homes, make up the highest-priority group for vaccines.

Although appointments for vaccination for those 65 and older have been available for a week, Roth said appointments will be scheduled according to vaccine supply, available staff and determination of who gets priority. A typical 75-year-old, for instance, will have his or her appointment scheduled earlier than one for a typical 65-year-old, Roth said. Wait times, she said, are expected to be approximately 14 days.

The county Health Services page now also features a new vaccination dashboard (https://www.coronavirus.cchealth.org/vaccine-dashboard) .

Roth said the county Health Services distribution system is being built up, and that a call center to handle appointment requests is being assembled this week. Until then, the best way to schedule an appointment is online at bit.ly/35zpGw8 .

Farnitano showed a map of where the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered in Contra Costa County, both via county Health Services facilities and those belonging to health care providers like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and San Ramon Regional Medical Center.

Supervisor John Gioia noted that the greatest concentration of centers, county-owned or otherwise, is in central Contra Costa. West County, which as a whole has been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, so far has the fewest.

Roth said three of West County’s five vaccine sites are considered “high volume” sites, but Gioia countered that that isn’t enough. He asked Roth and Farnitano to come back to the board with a plan for more vaccine centers, especially those not owned by the county, in both East and West County.

“We’ve got to be conscious of equity and of public health,” Gioia said.