Kern County will remain under the most stringent state restrictions for a few weeks longer as COVID-19 spread continues to accelerate.
The county is part of two areas across California that will remain under a regional stay at home order until hospital capacity improves. Divided into five regions, both Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions must continue to adhere to strict health guidelines until health projections show improvement to expected ICU capacity, likely lasting well into January.
“You can certainly stretch many rubber bands pretty far, as we are stretching many of our hospitals pretty far, but we know that that stretch has a limit before it breaks,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of Health and Human Services said during a press conference announcing the extension.
Kern County has been under the latest order since Dec. 7, when the San Joaquin Valley’s ICU capacity dropped below 15 percent. The state is now reporting that both the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California have 0 percent ICU capacity.
In Kern, the state said as of Monday only 10 of the county’s 228 beds were available. The number of available beds has fallen sharply since November, when dozens of beds were open each day. The state reports that 388 patients are hospitalized in Kern County with COVID-19, more than double the amount from just one month ago.
Rates of COVID-19 have continued to worsen in Kern County and elsewhere, and public health officials expect the statistics to become even more grim in mid-January when people infected over Christmas and new years begin showing symptoms.
“Getting to this point, it feels long for many people,” Ghaly said. “And acknowledging that, and trying to work with our communities to try to find ways to hold on a little longer to get through this period of extreme difficulty, where we’re losing Californians day over day in large numbers because of some of the actions that, I know most are not acting in a malicious way or in a harmful way, it’s just fatigue.”
The fatigue could be especially dangerous in Kern County, which has some of the worst COVID-19 metrics in the state. The county has the fifth highest positivity rate, at 19.7 percent, meaning nearly one out of every five coronavirus tests returns positive. Only Riverside, Yuba, San Bernardino and Sutter counties are higher.
From Dec. 13 to Dec. 19 an average of 78 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Kern County residents were identified, according to data released by the state on Tuesday, the most recent statistics available.
Still, many in Kern have openly flouted the state’s health order, which bans indoor dining and church services along with many other practices. For some employers, the latest shutdown has forced them to choose between operating illegally or losing their businesses.
“So many people I know are going under,” said April Kennedy, manager of the Westfair Lounge. “If my boss didn’t own this building, we would be going under too.”
She expressed skepticism at the state’s data and health strategy, saying the ability for Walmart and Valley Plaza Mall to remain open while schools, churches and bars must remain closed “doesn’t make any sense.”
Westfair has operated intermittently, with mostly outside service, in order to stay afloat, she admitted.
“We don’t have any options left. I’ve got a high schooler and a college student,” she said. “With unemployment running out I don’t have any other options.”