CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (CBS SF) – COVID-19-related death rates in Contra Costa County are now higher than any time since March, and nearly all of the new county cases involve the delta variant of the virus, health officials told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“For the seven-day period that ended a week ago — Aug. 31 — 15 people in our county passed away from COVID,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the medical director of the county health department. “Then this week, the period that ended today, for which we don’t even have full data yet, some data will still trickle in — we’ve had 20 COVID deaths for this past week.”

Tzvieli said the lowest number of deaths in the interim came the week that ended May 25 — one death. But the delta variant has changed things.

“We are seeing the death numbers coming up,” Tzvieli said. “That is why we are asking people to vaccinate. People dying from COVID is still a real thing — we’re still very concerned.”

UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford says it’s not a surprise to see these numbers now.

“When we have spikes in cases, we’ll have spikes in hospitalizations which are now starting to go down but much later we’ll also see increases in deaths,” said Dr. Rutherford.

Health professionals say seeing how COVID-19 is taking a toll on the mostly unvaccinated is a reminder for all to get the shot.

Dr. Rutherford says, “This is not going to go away. We’re not going to be able to put this back in the box. We’re just going to have to learn to live with it, which means getting people vaccinated.”

Contra Costa Health Services Deputy Director Randy Sawyer said the delta surge is changing how the department is now approaching the pandemic.

“This pandemic will last for years and we expect (there) will be additional surges and variants,” Sawyer said. “CCHS is now preparing for a COVID-19 response for the next five to 10 years, so we do expect it to be around for that period of time.”

In Contra Costa County, nearly 79% of those 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. With surges and variant, CCHS is now expecting its COVID response will last 5-10 years. Something many are not surprised to hear.

Pierre Daberdake , a Contra Costa County resident says, “I’m just worried that we have to take it serious or we’re never going to get out of it.”

“I think eventually it will filter out, I have to believe that there is something good coming but I do think it’s a rocky road,” said resident Jamie Luna.

“The surge that we’re seeing from the delta variant is being fueled by people who are not vaccinated,” Sawyer said. “You are 13 times more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID if you’re unvaccinated — that’s based on our own data.”

Tzvieli said demand for COVID-19 tests have gone up as well.

“We’ve actually been setting records this past week for number of tests done per day, countywide,” Sawyer said.

Though overall case numbers have gone down slightly in the past week, most new cases are coming from the eastern part of the county, where vaccination rates are the lowest. The health department has expanded testing and vaccination hours in the area.

Tseveli equated COVID-19’s staying power and our necessary adjustments to taking precautions whenever someone gets into a vehicle.

“When you get in the car, you always put on your seatbelt,” Tseveli said. “And with COVID, it’s the same thing. You wear a mask, which is like wearing a seatbelt to keep yourself safer. Cars also have airbags, right? And so with COVID we also social distance, that’s like having an air bag, like another measure to protect yourself.

“And when we drive a car, sometimes we’re getting low on gas or an electric charge, and we have to charge or add more gas. That’s the same thing with our body and our immunity. Over time, our immunity runs a little low and that’s when we need a booster.”

Tseveli said boosters will likely be available the week of Sept. 20, though the county is still waiting on official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first to be eligible will likely be elderly people in care homes and immunocompromised people, he said.

To find out more about the county’s COVID-19 response, people can go to

Andrea Nakano contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.