Despite the sudden decrease in daily reported coronavirus cases, the Kern County Public Health Services Department still sees warning signs that a surge in COVID-19 infections persists locally.
Even as San Diego County has been taken off a state monitoring list — and with other California counties on the verge of making their own exit — Kern’s own metrics betray a stubbornly high number of infections even as daily totals have reduced.
The health department has been carefully watching Kern’s progress, which could have significant implications on the general public as only those counties that are off the state’s watchlist can reopen schools without a waiver.
Kern’s test positivity rate, considered an indication of how many active cases are present within a community, remains far above the state’s acceptable level. During a news conference on Thursday, Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said Kern’s test positivity rate was greater than 20 percent, more than twice the state’s required level of 8 percent needed in order to be taken off the watch list.
The test positivity rate indicates the proportion of tests given out over a period of time that returned positive coronavirus results. Health experts say a high positivity rate suggests a high level of community transmission and indicates the need for more testing and other measures.
The case rate, too, which compares the number of infections to the overall population, is about 307 per 100,000 residents, more than three times higher than the state’s metrics allow for counties off the watchlist.
“We strive toward meeting those metrics, with some anticipation that that would then allow us at some future time to reopen businesses, to show the governor and the state that we have made improvements,” Constantine said. “Clearly we have some work to do, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”
The decline in reported daily cases has come at the same time as a decline in overall testing, Constantine added. The county announced Thursday that all of its testing sites were reporting low wait times.
“So if you have not been tested and were concerned previously that there was a long wait time, know that that number has come down,” county spokeswoman Megan Person said during the meeting.
Still, local hospitals continue seeing a surge in hospitalizations related to the coronavirus. Even as more nurses arrive from outside the region to help with shortages in staffing, the county continues to struggle with its intensive care unit capacity.
Only 17.7 percent of the county’s total ICU beds are open, under the 20 percent required by the state.
“The model still shows that cases will continue to rise through February of next year and then slowly subside going into the summer,” Constantine said when asked if the county was cautiously optimistic about the decline in daily reported cases. “We’re hopeful that the model can be changed and perhaps we can influence it more, but it’s really too early to draw any sort of conclusion to this point. And we continue to prepare for what the model has been predicting so we are ready to assist.”