Public health officials told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Tuesday they're making enough progress against COVID-19 to say the county will likely emerge from the state's most restrictive purple tier within two or three weeks.
Supervisor John Gioia re-enforced the idea, saying state officials recently told him they may relax the current threshold required to move into the less restrictive red tier -- currently at seven daily new reported cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive Tuesdays.
"They would announce that later this week," Gioia said, after hearing reports from county health director Anna Roth and health officer Chris Farnitano. "They didn't say what that would be. Given that we're at (a rate of) 10.4, if they do raise it above seven, it's likely that we will enter the red tier even sooner than your estimate of a couple weeks from now."
"Who knows what they would raise it to, but they sounded sort of serious about looking at that issue."
Farnitano said if the state does change the threshold for re-opening, it may do so based on reaching certain vaccination numbers.
"We're still waiting for details," he said.
Roth told the board, "Today we are in the phase, where we are on the other side of the winter wave and we are now really focused on vaccination. As of March 1, we've given 323,000 vaccine doses in our county."
Reported case rates have been dropping since mid-January. Roth said test positivity rate is now at 3.4% in Contra Costa, while the county expects to receive a bounty of new vaccines this month.
"This is really good news," Roth said.
Farnitano said, aside from the state possibly changing the current thresholds, the county could also move from purple to red by what the state calls a "health equity accelerated progression metric." If the county's hardest-hit areas move to less than five daily new reported cases per 100,000 rate of daily infections, the county could move into the red, even if overall numbers still exceed seven.
"That equity case rate is currently 5.7," Farnitano said.
However the method, moving into the red tier would allow restaurants to open indoor dining at 25% of capacity (up to 100 people), while retail stores could open up to 50% capacity and fitness centers could open indoors at 10% capacity. Churches would remain capped at 25% capacity.
Roth said 86% of county residents 75 and over have received at least one dose, along with 60% of those 65 to 74. The county will soon open more mass vaccine sites, including one at Diablo Valley College's San Ramon campus, by March 15.
Board Chairwoman Diane Burgis pointed out that vaccine numbers in East Contra Costa still lag compared to other parts of the county, and wants that addressed with more area sites.
"It is a problem; I'm going to push a little harder on my comments, but I wanted to throw that into the conversation," Burgis said.
Farnitano said the county so far hasn't dealt with the more serious new variants of coronavirus, but has purchased new gene-sequencing equipment for detection. The county has seen 85 cases of the West Coast, or California, variant, which is considered "of interest" but not as severe as those coming from the United Kingdom, South Africa or Brazil.
Roth said changes are coming, but now is not the time to relax mask-wearing and social distancing. "And when it's your turn, please sign up. Please get your vaccine," she said, adding that residents can sign up at multiple websites, including the county health site (www.cchealth.org) and the state's MyTurn page (www.myturn.ca.gov).