The latest COVID-19 surge continues to heavily impact Kern County which in turn is impacting health care workers’ morale locally, hospital workers said Friday.
On Jan. 4 of this year, 2,023 coronavirus cases were reported to the Kern County Public Health Services Department. The prior record was set on Jan. 3, with cases reaching 1,976.
On Friday, 2,002 cases were reported to the county, as well as six deaths.
A total of 181,112 people have contracted the disease since the start of the pandemic, and a total of 1,964 people have died. There are 244 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, according to Thursday’s figure, the most recent number available from the California Department of Public Health.
However, the cases released by the Kern County Public Health Department are based on when the “specimen was collected and not the date they were reported to us,” Kern County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson said in an email. Therefore, these numbers could still change.
On Tuesday, the test rate was 58.6 cases per 100,000 people, Corson said. By Friday, the state’s Department of Public Health database showed the seven-day average of confirmed cases is 121.2 cases per 100,000 people.
“Usually, we get inundated with patients a little later into the surge,” said Dr. Hemmal Kothary, the chief medical officer for Mercy Southwest Hospital. “We started very early with this one. Our hospitals are starting to get extremely overwhelmed.”
Some hospital officials are worried the local health care infrastructure may buckle with the onslaught of cases flooding into Bakersfield’s facilities.
Dr. Ghassan Jamaleddine, the chief medical officer for Adventist Health, said the hospital is “at capacity and beyond,” and had to add new beds.
The Kern County Public Health Department released a message to area residents, urging them to avoid calling 911 for non-emergency treatments.
"Please do not call 911 or visit the ER for minor COVID complaints or to get COVID testing,” the news release said. “We want to ensure our first responders assist emergencies. Kern County Public Health, local hospitals and first responders continue to work together to provide the best care for patients in Kern County.”
Top health care officials at Mercy, Memorial and Kern Medical, including Lavonne C. Hall, president and CEO of Hall Ambulance Service Inc., and Kern County Fire Department Chief Aaron Duncan urged the public to heed the message.
“This seemingly small act could mean the difference between life and death,” Duncan said.
The pandemic also affects employees not tasked with direct care for COVID-positive patients.
Letisha Zeigler, a housekeeper at Mercy on Truxtun, said she had to clean two to three areas per day because there are not enough staff. Each location, she said, typically takes about eight hours.
“It takes a toll on us,” Zeigler said. “I’m working double-time, overtime.”
Lisa Hernandez, a medical records technologist in the orthopedic department at Mercy Southwest, said only some staff have the proper skills for a certain job. When these people are gone, she said, no one can help the patients who need that skill.
“It’s a domino effect,” Hernandez said. “That work isn’t going to get done unless someone comes back.
"Exhausted and stressed," Hernandez goes to therapy to cope with the constant barrage of patients at work, as well as the personal toll COVID-19 has taken on her family.
Hospital officials said Friday the staffing shortages are causing real concerns during this latest surge. Many staff have contracted COVID-19 or are on leave. Kothary said about 80 people are not working.
Jamaleddine, the medical officer for Adventist Health in Kern County, said a large number of employees are not in the hospital.
“We’re struggling,” Kothary said. “We’re doing everything we can to get extra staff to come in and help.”
Jamaleddine added the pills approved by the FDA have arrived in Kern County to outpatient pharmacies, which may help stem the spread of the omicron-fueled surge. He added people should mask up and get vaccinated to avoid becoming infected.
Kothary also urged the public to become educated about the efficacy of vaccines. The omicron variant is “extremely contagious,” he added.
“You will see more and more people contracting the virus then you ever have seen,” Kothary said.