A Contra Costa County health official said Tuesday that, despite falling COVID-19 numbers, the county could be facing “ticking time bombs” related to other health issues.
During the department’s regular pandemic briefing to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, county health officials said undiagnosed conditions, due to people not seeing doctors for other problems for more than a year, are coming back with a vengeance.
While countywide COVID-19 numbers continue to plummet, other numbers related to heart disease, cancer, strokes, and Alzheimer’s are already going up.
Dr. Gabriela Sullivan, the county health department’s ambulatory care medical director, said COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death for Californians in 2020, behind usual suspects heart disease and cancer.
“Many people did not seek urgent care when they had symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke,” Sullivan said. “That’s likely what contributed to increased mortality.”
Nearly 50,000 more people died in California in 2020 than in 2019, about half of which were caused by COVID-19. The others were partially attributable to a 4 percent increase in heart disease fatalities and a 5 percent increase in stroke fatalities, Sullivan said. Non-COVID-19 emergency room visits were down about 42 percent nationwide.
“After years of actually seeing a decrease in mortality from heart disease in particular, you know we’ve made so many advances in heart disease, this last year saw an increase in mortality from heart disease,” Sullivan said.
There was also a spike in opioid-related deaths compared to the previous year — about 46 percent higher in California, and 33 percent in Contra Costa County.
Sullivan also said numbers of health screenings are trending downward significantly. While numbers of patients joining Contra Costa Health Plan have gone up, cancer screenings went down and are just starting to level off.
She said “there’s one bright spot.” Adult mental health screenings went up during the pandemic.
Regular wellness checks for children also went down, something the county will try to remedy in the coming months by reaching out to families and having providers show up to vaccine clinics and do them on site, especially those in communities of color. She said young African American children were about 20 percent less likely to get regular wellness visits during the pandemic.
“This disparity is very, very alarming to all of us,” she said.
County health director Anna Roth told the board, as of Monday, about 1.2 million Contra Costa residents had at least one vaccine dose — about 70 percent of the county. She said almost 60 percent of the county is fully vaccinated.
Roth also said that, despite contrary information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county will follow the state’s lead in not lifting mask mandates among vaccinated people yet.