Contra Costa Officials: Why African Americans are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 than any other race

Bay Area

MARTINEZ, Calif. (BCN) – African Americans in Contra Costa County are dying at a much higher rate from COVID-19 than any other race, health officials told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Gilbert Salinas, who oversees the health department’s equity efforts, said African Americans represented 42 percent of all county COVID-19 deaths between May 1 and June 2.

Africans Americans make up about 8 percent of the county’s population, he said. And the rate is increasing.

“We should all be alarmed,” Salinas said. “Clearly there is a disproportionate burden of death since the pandemic began, and increasingly so, within this community.”

Health officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said African Americans have been affected disproportionately throughout the pandemic. But this is different.

“The one thing that is different now than it was last year is the vaccine,” Farnitano said. “The rate of vaccination among African American residents is 15 percentage points lower than the rates of vaccination of white Contra Costa County residents. We know that the vaccines make all the difference in this pandemic.”

Farnitano said 77.6 percent of all county residents, 12 and over, are at least partially vaccinated, and more than 70 percent are fully vaccinated.

“Vaccination rates are not even across the county,” he said. “Our lowest vaccine rates are in the Pittsburg, Antioch and Oakley area of East County. About 1,000 unvaccinated county residents are getting vaccinated every day.”

Farnitano said the county is seeing about 45 new cases a day, with three to five deaths per week.

“This is really a tale of two counties,” Farnitano said. “For those who are fully vaccinated, the rates of new infections are really extremely low — about .5 cases per 100,000 per day. But for those who are not fully vaccinated, the case rates are 13 times as high. If that rate was extended to the whole county, that would really put us in what would have been consider the red, almost the purple, tier of case rates, like we were this past winter.”

The county has started mobile service to residents not able to get to a vaccine site, provided there are five people or more who need vaccination.

The service online form is available at https://bit.ly/3gLU0JW. To find out more about the county’s COVID-19 response, go to https://cchealth.org/.

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