“It Is Your Turn”: County Opens Vaccinations for Anyone Over 16, Weeks Ahead of State


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Tristan Shaughnessy, Editor

On Mar. 30, Anna Roth, Contra Costa’s health services director, delivered a landmark update to the county board of supervisors, declaring,“If you are 16 or older, it is your turn [to get vaccinated] in Contra Costa County.” 

Outpacing the state’s April 15 start date for vaccinating Californians older than 16, the announcement highlighted Contra Costa’s progress against the coronavirus as the federal government continues to deliver more doses to the county of 1.3 million residents, including in its unincorporated areas. 

As of April 2, only 31 percent of Californians have been partially vaccinated statewide, while 50 percent of eligible Contra Costa residents have received at least one vaccine dose. That translates to nearly 700,000 doses countywide, with a goal of reaching 1 million by May 31, according to Contra Costa Health Services. 

“We [county officials] don’t get a lot of kudos, but [right now] we are receiving kudos in massive numbers,” said Supervisor Glover in response to the health department’s recent update to the board.

Explaining the department’s work to promote an equitable distribution of the vaccine, Gilbert Salinas, the county’s chief equity officer, said health services has been increasing the number of immunizations administered at its mobile clinics — facilities that play an important role in reaching Contra Costa’s historically marginalized communities.

In addition, Salinas said the health department recently hired 19 community ambassadors, a group whose work is designed to help the county vaccinate hard-to-reach residents. By hosting public events and addressing misinformation about the coronavirus, Salinas said he hopes the ambassadors can help the county reach “community immunity.”

But even with more people getting vaccinated, the county’s deputy health officer, Ori Tzvieli, accurately noted that “we’re not done with the fight against Covid-19.” Tzvieli urged residents to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing. 

Vaccine appointments can be made at cchealth.org or by calling 833-829-2626.

On March 30, the board also received its first report from the Interdepartmental Climate Action Task Force, a body formed last September when the board recognized climate change to be a serious threat to the county’s long-term safety. 

Addressing the board, the group proposed immediate actions the county could take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, like a sustainability fund. 

Brian Balbas, director of the public works department, said the fund would be an annual investment from the county towards eco-friendly infrastructure improvements like solar panels, electric vehicles, charging stations, and building renovations that improve energy efficiency. Any savings realized by these efforts would go back into the fund for future projects.  

Pivoting to another set of solutions, Jason Crapo, deputy director of the county’s conservation department, suggested the county consider keeping its services and meetings virtual after the pandemic. Crapo said that maintaining an online service model would create less need for employees and residents to drive to county facilities, decreasing overall emissions. 

Although some activities will return to in-person, the task force highlighted the veteran services department and the Contra Costa County Library as examples of a successful virtual transition.

According to Nathan Johnson, the county’s veteran services officer, his department has been helping more veterans and their families through daily Zoom calls than they did in-person. 

Alison McKee, the newly appointed county librarian, said Contra Costa’s libraries had hosted 80 “extraordinarily well attended” online events since March 2020. Upwards of 4,000 e-books are being checked out daily, she added, more than double the pre-Covid rate. 

Civic engagement – the rate at which residents participate in local government discussions and decisions – has also seen a rise.

In its report, the task force said that rather than driving across the county to attend talks, advisory members and the public have found it easier to attend virtual meetings. Jody London, a county sustainability coordinator, told the board that based on a survey about meetings hosted online, 43 percent of Contra Costa’s 75 advisory bodies had seen an increase in attendance since the start of the pandemic.

“The participation we are getting from our constituents has been outstanding,” said Supervisor Glover.