Kern County Public Health Services announced a significant spike in positive coronavirus results Tuesday morning, hitting a record high of 1,893 new cases. The county also reported 12 new deaths from COVID-19-related causes, bringing the total to 135 people who died from the virus.
That brings the total amount of positive cases to 16,706 total during the length of the pandemic; of those, 5,399 Kern residents have since recovered.
According to Public Health Director Matt Constantine, a delay in test results has a direct link to the high number reported.
Constantine reported to the Kern County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning that a backlog has created delays as long as 19 days.
As such, this has hindered the ability for county officials to conduct efficient contact tracing, or identifying and contacting those who had contact with COVID-19-infected patients.
"Contact tracing on something that is 19 days old is really difficult," he told the board.
Public Health attributed the delays to the county's two contract labs lacking the appropriate supplies or materials to conduct tests in a timely matter. When test results are sent back to the county, it creates an overwhelming amount of data Public Health has to sift through.
He added some labs are holding asymptomatic nonessential worker samples until turnaround times improves for first responders and healthcare workers.
In addition, Constantine said the many of the lab reports are incomplete, lacking essential information such as ethnicity, age group and phone numbers.
"If you see on our website, we are not able to report ethnicity much any longer and the 'unknown' category is growing because we now have to call every single person and ask if they would declare the ethnicity because it was blank on the form," Constantine said. Other errors have cropped up, including a lack of date of birth.
"Without DOB you can't link it to what's going on," he said, adding contacting people has become time intensive.
"For every one positive, there are four contacts on average. If you take 1,893 cases today and times it by four, that's how many (contacts) we are having to do today," Constantine said.
The rapid rise in positive tests placed Kern County back on the state monitoring list last week after it hit three consecutive days of specific metrics. The return to the monitoring list triggered state mandated shutdown of business sectors conducting indoor operations, including church services, nail salons and shopping malls. Gov. Gavin Newsom had previously ordered the shutdown statewide of all in-door dining, card rooms, museums, wineries and mandated all bars to cease indoor and outdoor operations.
According to Constantine, the mandate will remain in effect indefinitely while California as a whole battles the COVID-19 spike.
The Board of Supervisors approved in a separate action a modification to its CARES Act funding, providing additional staffing to the county's hospitals.
"Our hospitals have been struggling with staffing issues," Constantine said. "There is a mutual aide response process that is in place to allow hospitals to request additional staffing if it's needed."
Constantine said the hospitals' top concern isn't the number of available intensive care beds, but the ability to staff them.
"Meaning having enough ICU nurses to take care of everyone that needs it," he said. "This measure is unique in that It requires that every hospital to staff up to their licensed beds and these additional nurses we will provide also provides additional beds and capacity within Kern County."
A state-provided modeling system projected that Kern County would reach its ICU bed capacity by July 28. The state reported that 64 people were in intensive care as of Tuesday, and 260 people hospitalized overall.
"That is the limiting factor and we are very close (to that limit)," Constantine said. "We have available ICU beds, but not available ICU nurses."
While Kern County runs the model monthly, Constantine said current projections show the ICU bed concern will persist through February 2021 before falling until completely flattening in late summer 2021. He added "as you get that far out, the reliability of the model isn't perfect but so far it's done fairly well."
Constantine added the Newsom has allocated $7.1 million to Kern County for "four strategic areas" to provide additional resources for COVID-19. The announcement from the governor's office comes as the Central Valley was labeled a hotbed for an alarming growth in coronavirus cases. The impacted counties received $52 million in extra funding overall.
The strategic areas of activity include workplace and enchanted workforce capacity, improved public health surveillance and data reporting, use of lab data to enhance investigations, response and prevention and coordinating and engaging with other county and state partners.
He added that the county can creatively use the money to ramp up its contact tracing activities. He stressed though that the county needs more clarity on when the funding becomes available and approved activities.
"We're thinking about talking to all the counties in the Central Valley that were identified by the governor and asking them what are we doing as a group," Constantine said. "We are all linked together."