Four new deaths from COVID-19 and 50 new cases of the virus were reported by the Kern County Public Health Services Department on Thursday morning. Total deaths in the county now stand at 21 and cases have climbed to 1,403.
In a nearly hourlong briefing, county officials touched on some of the major issues they are dealing with related to the virus.
Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said there have been two more deaths of residents at the Kingston Healthcare Center and an outbreak is now being monitored at a second skilled nursing facility, Valley Convalescent Hospital.
Nine residents and seven health care workers have tested positive at Valley Convalescent Hospital, which has 69 residents, Constantine said. The facility has notified the county that it is having staffing problems and requested assistance from the state and county to deal with the shortage.
At Kingston, which has 107 residents, Constantine said 67 residents and 49 health care workers have tested positive for the virus, and 11 of those residents have died. The state has extended the time it will keep a medical strike team at Kingston until May 24, Constantine said. The facility has told the county it is in the process of hiring 20 new staff members.
Constantine also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has recently indicated it will provide a two-week supply of PPE for all 19 skilled nursing facilities in the county.
COUNTY VARIANCE TO ACCELERATE REOPENING
Kern Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said the county is unable to meet two metrics required by the state in order for businesses in the county to reopen sooner than in other hard-hit areas of the state. Those requirements are for Kern to have fewer than 90 new cases of COVID-19 in the prior 14 days, and no deaths in the same time period.
The county had at least 300 new cases and 11 deaths in that time period, according to data it has made public.
Therefore, the county is instead asking the state to consider the rate of hospitalizations per day as a better indicator of its preparedness to reopen.
As of Thursday, about 40 people were hospitalized for the virus, county data showed.
"We believe consideration of a different methodology is something the governor needs to be considering," Alsop said.
Alsop said the recommendation came following a meeting between county leaders and all 10 hospitals and their top physicians in Kern.
COUNTY FISCAL SITUATION, WORKFORCE
The county's fiscal health will be severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis as well as the spiraling drop in oil prices that have negatively impacted the local oil industry, Alsop said.
"We are projecting significant revenue shortfalls across all of our (county) units not only in this current fiscal year but in the subsequent fiscal years," Alsop said.
Alsop said the state is projecting a $54 billion budget shortfall, and that the county relies on funding that comes via the state and federal governments to provide some of its services.
Recommendations for how to deal with the financial impact will be made at the Board of Supervisors' next meeting on Tuesday, Alsop said.
On Monday, the county will begin a phased effort to reopen and restart some of its services and bring back its 8,000-person workforce, most of which has been at home since the governor's shutdown orders took effect March 19. Alsop said the effort will take place over a number of weeks.