A syringe, cotton swabs and bandages at a COVID-19 vaccination station in the gymnasium of Antioch Middle School in Antioch, Calif., on May 19, 2021. (Eli Walsh/Bay City News)

COVID-19-related death rates in Contra Costa County are now higher than any time since March, and nearly all of the new county cases involve the delta variant of the virus, health officials told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“For the seven-day period that ended a week ago — Aug. 31 — 15 people in our county passed away from COVID,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the medical director of the county health department. “Then this week, the period that ended today, for which we don’t even have full data yet, some data will still trickle in — we’ve had 20 COVID deaths for this past week.”

Tzvieli said the lowest number of deaths in the interim came the week that ended May 25 — one death. But the delta variant has changed things.

“We are seeing the death numbers coming up,” Tzvieli said. “That is why we are asking people to vaccinate. People dying from COVID is still a real thing — we’re still very concerned.”

Contra Costa Health Services Deputy Director Randy Sawyer said the delta surge is changing how the department is now approaching the pandemic.

“This pandemic will last for years and we expect (there) will be additional surges and variants,” Sawyer said. “CCHS is now preparing for a COVID-19 response for the next five to 10 years, so we do expect it to be around for that period of time.”

“The surge that we’re seeing from the delta variant is being fueled by people who are not vaccinated,” Sawyer said. “You are 13 times more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID if you’re unvaccinated — that’s based on our own data.”

Tzvieli said demand for COVID-19 tests have gone up as well.

“We’ve actually been setting records this past week for number of tests done per day, countywide,” Sawyer said.

Though overall case numbers have gone down slightly in the past week, most new cases are coming from the eastern part of the county, where vaccination rates are the lowest. The health department has expanded testing and vaccination hours in the area.

Tseveli equated COVID-19’s staying power and our necessary adjustments to taking precautions whenever someone gets into a vehicle.

“When you get in the car, you always put on your seatbelt,” Tseveli said. “And with COVID, it’s the same thing. You wear a mask, which is like wearing a seatbelt to keep yourself safer. Cars also have airbags, right? And so with COVID we also social distance, that’s like having an air bag, like another measure to protect yourself.

“And when we drive a car, sometimes we’re getting low on gas or an electric charge, and we have to charge or add more gas. That’s the same thing with our body and our immunity. Over time, our immunity runs a little low and that’s when we need a booster.”

Tseveli said boosters will likely be available the week of Sept. 20, though the county is still waiting on official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first to be eligible will likely be elderly people in care homes and immunocompromised people, he said.

To find out more about the county’s COVID-19 response, people can go to https://cchealth.org/.