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New model predicts coronavirus will peak in Kern in February but ICU beds could run out sooner

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A new model estimates coronavirus cases in Kern County will peak eight months from now, in February 2021, but available hospital beds for critically ill patients could run out as soon as this fall. 

The predictions were presented in a Monday morning briefing during which county officials emphasized that everyone must still do their part to flatten the curve in order to help hospitals meet the likely growing need for care. Officials urged the public to continue following all guidelines for personal protection and those put in place by businesses that are reopening.

"The model shows we need to do more. We need to flatten the curve so we have the ability to care for everybody we may need to put in an ICU bed," said Matt Constantine, director of Kern County Public Health Services Department. "The last two months have been effective at bringing down that curve, bringing down that peak. We need to bring it down even more."

The model, provided to counties by state government, shows that Kern County will reach a peak of 679 hospitalizations in February 2021, with 436 of those patients in the ICU, Constantine said. 

The current ICU capacity of 78 beds among Kern's 10 hospitals will be exceeded by the end of July, the model shows. However, hospitals have already drawn up plans to quickly scale up their ICU bed capacity to 294 beds if necessary. But even that amount will fall short by November of what the model estimates will be needed.

There were 86 new cases of COVID-19 in Kern announced Monday, bringing the county total to 3,377 cases out of about 40,000 people tested so far.

One-third of the cases are active infections and 53 people have died. Active infections have nearly doubled in the past month, from about 500 on May 15 to over 1,000 on Monday.

The latest state figures show 79 people are hospitalized in Kern due to the virus, with 33 of those patients in the ICU.

Russel Judd, CEO of Kern Medical, said hospitals have triggers in place to scale up the number of ICU beds so there's no immediate concern about local capacity issues.

Judd and others stressed that the model is only a prediction of what could happen based on current conditions. The state indicated the model is most accurate for a 30-day time period, Constantine said, and the county will re-run it monthly to update the estimates. 

The model uses as inputs the county's population, current hospitalizations rates, number of available hospital and ICU beds, when the county implemented intervention measures and the degree of compliance with those measures in the community.

"If people follow the recommendations, this graph does not have to become our reality and this can stay within our capacity to manage," Judd said. He said an earlier model predicted a peak to happen sooner but because the public did its part by staying home, wearing masks and social distancing, those early predictions didn't come to fruition. 

County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said even with businesses reopening, Kern can keep its virus activity at bay if people and businesses follow guidelines for personal protection.

"People are not going to be getting sick from businesses reopening. People will get sick because they're making poor personal public health choices," Alsop said.