Contra Costa County: Compassion and Community in Action

Messsage from the County Health Director

Contra Costa County Health Services Director Anna Roth, RN, MS, MPH. Photo:

For all of us caught in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, life has changed fundamentally. How we socialize, learn, exercise, dine and work has been reshaped entirely in the course of just a few weeks. That level of change, combined with the inherent health concerns related to COVID-19, has created levels of stress and anxiety typical of war zones. Combine all that with the frustration of not knowing when this might end, how we will all be impacted and what a post-COVID-19 world will look like and you might expect fractures in our community.

But we’re not breaking apart. In fact, as I look around, I see a community that is pulling together in many different and powerful ways. Yes, we’re all under immense stress, but Contra Costa County has risen to the challenge, showing a level of respect, cooperation and involvement that is simply remarkable. It’s too early to predict the future, but one thing I do foresee is Contra Costa County emerging from all this with pride for modeling a remarkable level of civility and leadership.

It’s these increased acts of community participation that make it possible for Contra Costa County Health Services to respond in a coordinated, science-based and thoughtful manner to this crisis. The health department’s purpose is to protect and preserve life. We prepare and practice for mass emergencies on a regular basis—earthquakes, fires, disease outbreaks and other disasters. It is our obligation to be prepared even for a once-in-a-century pandemic. And now, with COVID-19, our purpose inspires and drives us to balance the need for extreme caution with a respect for your need to live as normal a life as possible in the face of this crisis.

As one of the first states to see COVID-19 cases, California could well have faced the same catastrophic impacts that other states are now experiencing. However, because of the courage and foresight of health and government officials in Contra Costa County and the entire Bay Area, we took strong and immediate action. Issuing one of the nation’s first region-wide shelter in place orders, the Bay Area slowed the spread of this unprecedented threat to prevent the crushing demand on hospital resources, which prevented illness and death. None of this is possible without the understanding and cooperation of all of you. Your willingness to alter your lives in ways we know are disruptive is vital for the health and well-being of the entire community as well as the safety of our essential workers.

Part of what’s made our response effective thus far has been the cooperation and coordination of the entire county government apparatus. From our Board of Supervisors and County Administration to the multiple different county departments, we are seeing an unprecedented level of alignment and action. Separate departments are sharing resources, staff expertise and contacts to make sure that the county’s response is as comprehensive and coordinated as possible. By the same respect, the county’s 19 cities are partnering closely with all of these efforts to magnify our reach, impact and efficiency. This has been a true example of a whole government response to support and protect the people of Contra Costa County.

Rightly so, there has been a lot of focus on the amazing individuals on the front lines of this epidemic – our healthcare workers, medics, police, fire and many more. As the county’s health director, I have never been more inspired in my entire career than to work with doctors, nurses, clinicians, lab workers, disease investigators, community health workers, registration, administration and custodial staff and countless other essential workers who have never once questioned their responsibility. Instead, they come to work every day dedicated to protecting and preserving lives in our county. It is humbling to witness this level of commitment to others. And for every worker that is responding on the multiple front lines of this pandemic, there’s a team of support staff working to make sure they have the materials, protection, data, information, and expertise they need so they can focus their attention on the work of helping people get and stay well.

The other day, I was on my way to a field health care site we have prepared. As I was driving, I saw a gathering of people at a local school. With masks and gloves on, dozens of volunteers had shown up to distribute food to their neighbors, friends and strangers who are feeling some of the greatest economic impact of this pandemic. As I passed the group I was filled with gratitude. I believe this deep sense of community and connection is part of what makes us resilient and will take us forward to greet the days ahead.

Many thanks for all the ideas, feedback and information so many of you have shared with Contra Costa County Health Services. Your input is helping us to improve each day. Thank you for your continued support of our health department and each other.

Wishing you all safety, health and wellness

Anna Roth, RN, MS, MPH

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