New projections show Kern County’s increase of 2019 novel cornoavirus infection rates will not peak until February 2021.
However, room for critically ill patients may run out by the fall. The predictions came as Kern County Public Health Service officials provided an update Monday morning in Bakersfield.
Public Health Director Matt Constatine said Monday that the state health department provided local governments with a new model that allows input of local variables.
“The model shows we need to do more,” Constantine said. “We need to continue to flatten the curve so that we have the ability to care for everybody we may need to put into an ICU bed.”
Constantine said the past two months have been devoted to bringing down the number of daily reported infections and lower the overall peak.
“We need to bring it down even more,” he said.
As of Wednesday, Kern County reported that 57 people have died from COVID-19-relaed symptoms and 3,552 people have tested positive since testing began in March. Of those positive cases, 1,200 are actively infected while 2,300 have since recovered.
Nearly 43,000 tests for the virus have been performed in that time. The vast majority (38,595) have been negative and 742 tests are pending.
The new model data shows that by February, the peak of hospitalizations could reach 679, including 436 in intensive care unit beds.
Constantine said at the local level, hospital capacity remains high and those 10 healthcare facilities have triggers in place to address a surge of patients.
“We have 912 beds available,” he said. “Hospitalizations are not our concern today.”
ICU beds are another issue and will exceed capacity by the end of July. The county hospitals currently has only 78 beds. Patient surge procedures could allow county healthcare facilities to bring it up 294 if necessary. But even then, the need could exceed even that amount of space by November.
Currently, Kern County reported 76 people being hospitalized, including 33 patients in ICU beds.
Constantine stressed that the recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — such as wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot social distance from other people — continue to be effective measures in preventing COVID-19 spread.
Russell Judd, chief executive officer for Kern Medical Center, the county’s public hospital, stressed the numbers are based on current conditions and subject to change.
The state indicated the model’s accuracy falls within a 30-day window, which Constatine will be rerun on a monthly basis.
The model uses data including the county’s population, current hospilization rates, number of general and ICU beds, when the county implemented intervention measures and the rate of compliance measures within the community.
“If people follow the recommendations, this graph does not have to become our reality and this can stay within our capacity to manage,” Judd said.
Judd stressed that all 10 hospitals in Kern County remain dedicated to residents’ well-being, both COVID-19 and more normal medical needs. He added that people “should not ignore their other medical needs” and that hospitals are prepared to meet that need.
“I do not take this disease lightly -- it is serious, it is deadly and it does cause ICU and hospital stays,” Judd said.
Even as the county began its phased re-opening of certain business industries under state guidelines three months after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order to reduce the risk of spreading the deadly virus.
Despite the cautious pace and continued advice to adhere to social distancing rules, the number of positive cases have continued to spike.
County Administrator Officer Ryan Alsop, Kern County’s top leader, stressed that infections can be mitigated so long as residents and businesses continue to comply with the state guidelines for re-opening businesses.
“People are not going to be getting sick from businesses reopening,” Alsop said. “People will get sick because they're making poor personal public health choices.”
Constantine said that 12 of the county’s 14 skilled nursing facilities continue to see its workers test positive for COVID-19, calling it a significant issue.
Constantine addressed the concern during Tuesday’s Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting. Those facilities account for half of Kern County’s COVID-19 deaths and has seen outbreaks of the virus.
Kern County does not regulate the facilities, a job that falls to the state. Constantine said even while the county has watched the number of cases grow in each of the facilities, some continue to accept patients. He expressed concern that the state isn’t forcing skilled nursing facilities to comply with regulations.
““Our worry is that this is going to quickly develop into something that we can’t contain,” Constantine said.
The outbreaks have drawn sharp criticism from Supervisors, with Supervisor Mick Gleason comparing it to a grenade.
“What we’re doing is controlling and flattening the curve with great success and in the middle of this pizza pie, we have a hand grenade that’s going to blow up,” Gleason said. “It’s going to splatter everybody at the table and destroy the flattening of the curve and the success that we’ve enjoyed.”
Supervisors asked County Counsel Margo Raison, the county’s top lawyer, to investigate potential legal actions to address the issues occurring at affected nursing facilities. While an accountability officer has been assigned to watch the facilities, it remains unknown if the county could do anything due to the state oversight.
For up-to-date information on Kern County's COVID-19 response and cases, visit https://kernpublichealth.com/2019-novel-coronavirus/