Delano Mayor Joe Alindajao couldn’t believe it.
“My eyes popped out of my head,” he said, when he saw that Kern County reported 918 new coronavirus cases Monday morning.
When Ken Keller, CEO of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, first heard the number, he wondered if it was a mistake.
Kern County Public Health Services spokeswoman Michelle Corson confirmed the number to be accurate.
Those 900 cases are spread out over several prior days, and actual daily case counts are more likely to be around 400. But it’s still a high number and a sign that cases will continue to increase in the coming days and weeks.
“This is truly an indication that we have more cases,” Corson said. “We are pleading with our community to remain vigilant.”
The last time Kern County saw so many cases was just prior to a massive peak in July, when the county saw an average of 500 to 600 cases a day, and hospitals became overwhelmed with the influx of COVID-19 patients. To date, nearly 40,000 people in Kern have been sickened with the virus and 445 have died.
The massive surge in cases comes just days before Thanksgiving. State and federal health officials have urged people not to travel, even across town, for the holiday in the hopes of stopping transmission of the virus. The safest way to celebrate, they say, is with the people in your immediate household only.
To slow the spread of the virus, Gov. Gavin Newsom last week issued a statewide overnight curfew to discourage gatherings. However, both Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and the Bakersfield Police Department last week made comments indicating the curfew wouldn't be enforced.
Youngblood said deputies would not respond to calls reporting large gatherings if there was not some other public safety threat; BPD said it would not stop community members in the community "solely due to the hour of the day."
“Just stay within your own family for the holidays and let’s get ahold of this,” said Alindajao. “You just don’t know who is being exposed to who, or when.”
Alindajao himself was in day 12 of quarantine after he and his wife learned they’d been exposed to someone with the virus.
Delano, Kern’s second largest city after Bakersfield, has seen one of the biggest recent increases in coronavirus, reporting 550 cases in the past four weeks, according to county data.
Only the 93307 ZIP code in Bakersfield saw more cases during that time — 557 — but it has a population of 85,000, roughly 30,000 more people than in the Delano ZIP code.
On a per capita basis, Shafter, the 93314 ZIP code in Bakersfield and McFarland had the most cases, followed by Delano.
Because so much of the spread in Kern is happening through gatherings, it’s hard to do much about it, Alindajao said. He said more public education is needed.
Tim Calahan, a spokesman for Clinica Sierra Vista, said the organization’s Delano clinic saw a big increase in demand for testing, along with a clinic on Wible Road in Bakersfield. Overall, the health care provider performed 36 percent more COVID-19 tests last week than the week before, Calahan said.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise in Kern, though they tend to increase several weeks after cases. As of Sunday, 117 people were hospitalized in Kern for COVID-19, double the number hospitalized two weeks ago.
Keller, the CEO of Bakersfield Memorial, said local hospitals had expected a surge and are prepared, at least for now.
"We’re all better prepared today than in the spring," Keller said, "but as with all the other hospitals across the country, there will at some point be some capacity constraints."