Yes, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus is on the rise in Tehachapi. But before you panic, you should know that the daily number of positive tests reported by the Kern County Department of Public Health on its online dashboard includes prison inmates at California Correctional Institution.
As of Friday morning, the county public health department reported 152 confirmed cases in the 93561 ZIP code, which includes the prison's inmates who are considered to be residents. According to the dashboard, 33 individuals have reportedly recovered.
Also Friday morning, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported on its website that the number of positive tests among inmates at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi was 226, of which 122 cases were reported in the past two weeks. In addition, 15 inmates have been released as of Friday with active virus cases, and another 22 had recovered.
CCI also reported 100 prison employees have tested positive, and 14 have returned to duty.
So why the discrepancy in the numbers reported by the the county health department and the prison system?
"When it comes to the prisons in Kern County, any of the inmates that test positive will be reflected in the ZIP code that the prison is located because that is essentially their (the inmate's) permanent address," said Michelle Corson, spokeswoman for county public health.
According to Corson, the health department's reported numbers are delayed versus those stated on the prison website as the health department must collect positive test data from numerous sources, including the prison, private doctors and from the local hospital.
Said Corson, "The CDCR website is what you should follow for the most accurate and current because it hits their system before it does ours. It will hit our website, but it hits their system first."
Corson went on to say that, currently, the number of positive tests among inmates and the number of positive tests in local residents are not tracked separately by county public health. Furthermore, the number of positive tests among the prison's employees are added to the ZIP code where that employee lives, such as Tehachapi, Rosamond, Bakersfield, etc.
Taking all this into consideration, local residents can expect to see a sharp rise in the number of positive tests reported by the KCDPH in the days ahead; however, these numbers are largely reflective of prison statistics.
As the rest of the country continues to see a surge in the number of positive cases, hospitals in many states have become stretched beyond capacity for inpatients, including in intensive care units.
Although Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley Hospital is also reporting an increase in the number of positive tests, operations inside the facility itself remain manageable despite the uptick.
In a telephone interview with Tehachapi News on July 14, AHTV President Jeff Lingerfelt said rumors that the hospital is filling up are not true.
"Currently, we have 11 patients today and one patient in ICU," said Lingerfelt.
Although Lingerfelt said he is not allowed, by law, to disclose how many patients are being treated for coronavirus, he did say that "the vast majority of patients are routine patients."
Due to the increase in testing by the hospital and other sites, Lingerfelt went on to say that it is only natural for the public to see an increasing number of positive tests.
As of July 14, Lingerfelt said that more than 700 people have been tested for coronavirus at the hospital's drive through site. Each day, the hospital tests approximately 40 individuals by appointment.
Said Lingerfelt, "The number of people that are testing positive are low, extremely low, and I'm surprised. These are people that are not showing any symptoms... they are just curious. Many of them are coming because they have to be tested to go back to work or they are traveling to a state that requires testing before you come."
Lingerfelt went on to say that, of those who test positive, many of them don't know they have contracted the virus and are asymptomatic.
"It's not like they are requiring hospitalization," said Lingerfelt. "However, what they are dealing with in Bakersfield is not what we are dealing with here... thank goodness. I think the fact that we are rural is to our benefit."
According to its president, AHTV is fully equipped to care for all coronavirus patients, including individuals requiring ventilators and intensive care.
"Our staff is amazing. It's a safe place," Lingerfelt said. "We are taking a lot of precautions, and we are screening everyone who comes into the building. We are asking everyone to practice social distancing and to wear a mask."
Any patient who presents symptoms of coronavirus is kept separate from other patients and is quarantined.
Said Lingerfelt, "I think we are taking the appropriate steps to keep the community safe.'