Kaiser Permanente Martinez Medical Offices is one of the many locations hosting COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites around Contra Costa County, located at 200 Muir Road in Martinez, Calif. on January 13, 2021. (Samantha Laurey/Bay City News)

Contra Costa Health (CCH) is refocusing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic on eliminating preventable deaths in the county.

The Path to Zero initiative includes strategies to use more underutilized COVID-19 protections, especially prescription medications and home testing resources — particularly in communities where infection and death rates are highest.

“No one should die from COVID-19 when free testing, vaccines and effective medication are all readily available in our community,” said Contra Costa Health Director Anna Roth, in a statement Monday. “Preventable COVID-19 deaths in our county are unacceptable.

“The time has come for us to think differently about this virus,” Roth said. “When a member of our community dies from COVID today, we should understand why and then work to remove any barriers to treatment that may have contributed to that death.”

CCH has opened its advice nurse line to any county resident who tests positive for COVID-19 (PCR/lab or home test). Advice nurses screen callers and schedule free telehealth appointments and prescriptions for treatment, if medically appropriate.

Most people 12 and older can get a prescription for antiviral medication, reducing the risk of serious illness or death. The medication works best within 48 hours of a positive test result. 

Call 1-877-661-6230 if you test positive to make an appointment for a free same-day consultation.

CCH on Monday also issued a health advisory to medical providers, urging them to ensure all COVID-positive residents have timely access to the appropriate medicine.

Throughout this month, CCH will roll out additional efforts to reduce preventable COVID-19 deaths, aiming to reduce spread, save lives through early testing and treatment, and address social inequities putting many at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

“There are stark differences in COVID mortality rates between our wealthiest, healthiest neighborhoods and those with significant challenges to community health,” said Gilbert Salinas, CCH Chief Equity Officer. “Path to Zero helps us to sharpen our focus on our most vulnerable communities.”

The Path to Zero campaign is informed by a mortality review team of medical experts, analyzing Contra Costa’s COVID-19 deaths to prevent more deaths and better understand possible missed opportunities to access care and treatment. Mortality review is a medical best practice used to fight many other diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV.

“We already know many of the steps we need to reduce preventable deaths in our county,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, Contra Costa’s health officer. “This approach allows us to fine-tune our efforts to ensure we provide maximum benefit where it is needed the most.”

The mortality review process will help CCH develop an evidence-based description of what a “preventable” COVID-19 death looks like – typically one in which the patient didn’t have access or didn’t use some of the means available to reduce risk of serious illness or death as the result of their infection.

For more information, go to CCHealth.org.