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COVID-19 ticks back up in Kern County as vaccinations decrease

COVID-19 has begun to creep back up in Kern County, halting weeks of decline.

In the latest weekly update, the Kern County Department of Public Health Services reported the first rise in coronavirus cases since the end of the winter surge. At the same time, vaccination rates have declined, making it more difficult for officials to get the virus under control.

Department Director Brynn Carrigan said Public Health was watching the numbers closely, especially the rise in COVID-19 variants that have been discovered within the county.

“It is important, since we are seeing some slight increases, that we are prepared in case we see a third surge here in Kern County,” Carrigan told the Kern County Board of Supervisors during a Tuesday meeting.

In the latest update, the countywide rate of new daily coronavirus cases was 3.4 per 100,000 residents, up from 2.8 per 100,000 last week.

The county’s testing positivity rate was 1.7 percent in the weekly update, up from 1.3 percent a week earlier.

The testing positivity in the county’s poorest census tracts — called the health equity quartile — was 1.9 percent, up from 1.8 percent last week.

Hospitalizations, too, have gone up from a low of 17 patients on May 1, with four in intensive care units on May 2. As of Monday, Kern County had 28 hospitalizations, with nine in ICUs.

“This is nowhere near the number of COVID hospitalizations we saw at the height of the surge on Jan. 11, with 453 patients hospitalized and 110 patients in the ICU, but the increase is something that we’re watching closely,” Carrigan said.

In addition, six new cases of the B117 variant, called the UK strain, have been identified in Kern County.

As cases have increased, vaccinations have gone the opposite direction. Although 34.2 percent of the county’s 16 and older population has been fully vaccinated, the number of new doses administered each week has continuously declined.

The week of April 5, a high of 50,435 doses was administered. The figure was cut in half last week, with 21,086 doses administered.

If the county vaccinates people at the rate it has been administering doses over the next four weeks, it will take 49 weeks to reach the entire eligible population.

This week, Kern County remained in the orange tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The second least restrictive of four color coded tiers, the orange tier allows many activities to take place that were banned during quarantine as long as protective measures are in place.

A county must meet lower tier requirements for two weeks before qualifying. The earliest Kern County could qualify for the yellow tier is now May 26.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated the Blueprint will be eliminated on June 15 as long as vaccines remain available and hospitalizations remain steady.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.