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Kern County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson during a news conference on coronavirus.

As COVID-19 takes hold in Kern County, many are seeking more information about the confirmed cases in our community. The Bakersfield Californian reached out to Kern County Public Health Department spokeswoman Michelle Corson to better understand what information is being made publicly available and shed light on other issues related to testing.

Question: Is there any tracking information collected on the confirmed coronavirus cases announced so far to indicate if others in the community may have been exposed, such as where these people went before they knew they had the virus — local stores, churches, etc.? 

Answer: Our investigation follows up with cases to determine if there is a relevant community exposure. If a relevant community exposure is identified we would make a notification.

Q: Likewise, have there been any determinations made about how any of the cases were contracted — for example, due to travel or contracted locally?

A: Making these determinations are a part of our investigation process. If a relevant community exposure is identified we would make a notification

Q: Can you explain the process that happens between county public health official and a patient once they test positive for the virus?

A: We make contact with the case, assess medical status and gather relevant information including possible exposure information, contacts from symptom onset. We provide education to the patient on things like the importance of isolation for them and their contacts.

Q: How many cases does Kern need to surpass for you to start providing additional demographic info, such as age ranges of those affected or the specific city they are located in?

According to public health department epidemiologist Kimberly Hernandez: As the public health department we have an obligation to protect the privacy of individuals affected by COVID-19 or any other reportable communicable disease. We also have a responsibility to provide timely, accurate information to our community. This is not something we take lightly. The California Department of Health Care Services ... (outlines) a process to assess data for public release. With one case of COVID-19, the criteria found in these guidelines allowed us to publicly release that we have an affected individual in our county, but very little else about that individual. As more cases were identified this provided us the opportunity to provide limited geographic information, which we grouped into regions. These regions are similar to the regions found in the valley fever data that is released annually on our valley fever website.... The more information we provide the easier it becomes to potentially identify one or more of the people who have been affected. As we identify more cases of COVID-19 we will continue to re-evaluate what information can be provided to the public while still protecting the privacy and maintaining the confidentiality of those affected.

Q: Is it true there is no lab in Bakersfield actually performing analysis of the coronavirus tests being done here? The local labs are all sending tests elsewhere to be processed?

A: This is correct. Providers take a sample and send it out to labs. As new tests are approved more capability is coming online. Local hospitals are working to stand up in-house testing. We have no additional information on this testing at this time.

Q: Is testing widely available in the mountain and desert areas of the county? It was announced Tuesday that Ridgecrest is just starting testing at its hospital.

Most healthcare providers have the ability to collect specimens and send them to labs for testing. The new location in Ridgecrest is a drive-up facility to facilitate additional testing, not just the start of all testing in the area.