This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist was preparing patients’ samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing, using the CDC serologic test. (James Gathany/CDC 2020)

Contra Costa County’s rate of COVID-19 related hospitalizations are down, and health officials are currently working out details to possibly modify the standing health order requiring people in restaurants and gyms to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test and wear masks while inside.

Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the medical director of the county health department, told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, “We are working in coordination with other counties in the region who have indoor masking orders to establish criteria for these counties to ease some of these restrictions. We’re expecting to announce something with details at the end of this week.”

According to the health department’s COVID-19 dashboard on its website, seven-day averages of hospitalizations in Contra Costa are down from 201 on Sept. 1 to 82 on Monday. The number Tuesday was 73.

Deputy Health Director Erika Jenssen told the board of the most recent statistics, “we are cautious, happy about these numbers, but also cautious.”

Jenssen said the Pfizer vaccine is currently available to people ages 12 and up in the county and it’s possible it could become available to children 5 to 11 under an emergency use authorization issued later this month.

“We do expect that younger children ages 5 to 11 years old will be able to start being vaccinated somewhere around Nov. 1, depending on all those variables,” Jenssen said. “We are incredibly pleased and hopeful about this because it will mean that kids in that age group, 5 to 11, could’ve received their first dose by Thanksgiving and be fully vaccinated in time for the winter holidays.”

Though the state last week mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for school children in 2022, it likely won’t be mandated for children ages 5-11 until the FDA gives full approval, probably in July.

Jenssen also said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory strongly recommending pregnant women get vaccinated.

“We know that vaccination rates are much lower among pregnant people — only 31 percent of people who are pregnant have been vaccinated,” Jenssen said.

Of the 527 women admitted to give birth at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez between June 1 and Sept. 9, only 29 percent were fully vaccinated on or before delivery. After delivery, this increased to 51 percent fully vaccinated and 59 percent partially vaccinated, Jenssen said.

Tzvieli said the county is currently offering booster shots for those who previously got the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago. He said the FDA will likely meet Oct. 14 or 15 to decide whether to authorize boosters for people who have received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Boosters are recommended for people who are over 65 or living in a long-term care setting, anyone older than 50 with underlying health conditions or older than 50 who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 due to social inequities, including those in communities of color, Tzvieli said.

Boosters are also available for people ages 18-49 who have underlying health issues and are at increased risk of exposure due to their jobs, or living in an institutional setting.

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