Kim Hernandez

Kern County Public Health Services Lead Epidemiologist Kim Hernandez speaks during a press conference on Thursday.

On the day the Kern County Public Health Services Department reported its highest coronavirus case increase, officials warned residents could expect worse news in the coming weeks.

“At this point in time we do expect our cases to continue to keep rising,” said Kim Hernandez, the public health department's lead epidemiologist, during the county’s Thursday news conference. “We have concerns in our community about the amount of transmission that is going on. Obviously, if we think about the incubation period for COVID-19, we have to make changes now if we want to impact, over the course of the next two weeks, how many people are getting infected.”

She recommended residents follow Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order and limit the amount of contacts they have outside their households.

The health department reported 220 new virus cases Thursday, the second day in a row more than 200 were announced locally. Over the last week, the number of cases reported each day have been growing steadily, indicating COVID-19 in Kern County has gotten worse, not better, since social distancing restrictions have been eased.

Due to a lag time that's developed in labs processing coronavirus tests, along with some individuals delaying testing themselves after symptoms develop, Thursday’s reported cases include results from tests that occurred up to a week and a half ago, Hernandez said.

“It is difficult for us to link the (220) cases we’re reporting out today to the Fourth of July weekend,” she said. “For many of those patients, their symptoms may have started after that or the ones that we’re reporting may have started sooner than that.”

Last week, Newsom ordered Kern and 18 other counties to close bars and indoor dining in restaurants, along with other closures, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in some of the state’s worst-hit regions. The order expires next week, but Kern County has consistently been out of compliance with several state metrics that help determine which counties are allowed to open more fully than others.

County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said he expects the state to extend the closure deadline if Kern continues to be out of compliance. On Thursday, he reported the county was only noncompliant in one metric: the percent increase over three days of hospitalized patients with COVID-19. The state mandates that counties must maintain an increase of less than 10 percent. Kern is sitting at a 10.25 percent increase.

Despite nearly meeting the state’s rules, Kern residents might not be as close to dining in their favorite restaurants or bars as they might think.

“Expect us to be holding these press conferences on a weekly basis reporting to you that we have increased cases every week for the next many, many, many months,” Alsop said, mentioning that COVID-19 was present not only in Kern but other areas of the United States. “This virus is here. It’s spreading. We are not going to be able to stop it, but we can manage it. We can help control the spread and slow the spread.”

He said the county would seek to allow as many businesses as possible to operate under public health guidelines set by the state.

“We’ve got to strike a balance,” he said. “That balance is some economic activity — judicious economic activity — along with all of us making good personal public health choices in all of the interactions that we’re having.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.