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County officials address dramatic stats about ICU capacity in San Joaquin Valley

State officials announced that the intensive care unit capacity in the San Joaquin Valley had fallen to 1.9 percent on Thursday, far below the 15 percent mark that would allow a stay-at-home order to eventually be lifted on counties including Kern.

The San Joaquin Valley is one of three regions to be under a stay-at-home order under recent state guidelines, and the state also reports its ICU capacity is the lowest of the five regions. Southern California's capacity is reported to be 7.7 percent.

On Thursday, Kern County officials questioned some of the calculations used by the state to arrive at these dire numbers. They said that while they are keeping an eye on ICU beds and surging COVID-19 cases, they assured the community that local hospitals are better prepared to address the surge than these numbers may indicate. 

"Yes, we see that the number of hospitalized patients is increasing," said Kern Medical CEO Russell Judd. "The narrowest neck of the funnel is the ICU and an element that we are extremely aware of and concerned about. I will reemphasize that we are prepared to meet our community needs."

He said that currently ICU beds at Kern Medical are full, but — with the exception of one — it is with trauma victims and other patients who have illnesses not related to COVID-19.

"Now is not the time where we're at crisis," he said.

"You could have pointed to a random day in December anytime over the last couple of years and found us in this exact same hospitalization state as far as it being full," Judd said. "It could have been a different disease, it could have been the flu."

But he added that he does have concerns about what is ahead.

"Again, we're concerned about what may be around the corner and encouraging everyone to be safe," Judd said.

The San Joaquin Valley was subject to a stay-at-home order beginning Dec. 5. Under state guidelines, once a region enters this lockdown it stays there for three weeks. To leave the lockdown, its ICU metrics must show that it will remain at or above 15 percent capacity for four weeks.

Brynn Carrigan, assistant director of Kern County Public Health Services, said that when the state began tying regional ICU capacity to stay-at-home orders, there was a big drop in capacity reported between Friday, which was 14.1 percent, to Saturday, which was 8.1 percent. She said this drop came not from the raw numbers of beds available but from the state removing pediatric ICU beds from its calculations at that time.

Carrigan also said the state makes an "arbitrary adjustment" to the local ICU capacity calculation. She claims the state calculates capacity downward half a percent for every 1 percent that the occupancy of the ICU exceeds 30 percent COVID-19 patients. She calls this the "standardization factor."

"We believe we are able to replicate the state's calculations using data reported from the hospitals," she said.

She said that under state calculations Kern County has an ICU capacity of 5.7 percent available, but she said without this state "standardization factor" the county's capacity would be 10.6 percent.

Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop took aim at the orders that have come down from the state. He said there has been "no coordination" between the state and counties about how to enforce the recent orders, and the county finds out just a few hours before the general public.

Alsop said they are not orders that the county has resources for and he doesn't consider them productive in tackling the transmission happening in private settings among family and friends. 

"At the end of the day, I'm not sure how you effectively enforce the vast variety of directives that the state has handed down, whether it's a curfew, mask mandate or stay-at-home order or business closures, etc., etc.," said Alsop.