By all accounts, there has been no significant jump in COVID-19 cases following Labor Day weekend and the spread of the virus continues to slow in Kern County. Three weeks past the early September holiday, new cases and hospitalizations in Kern remain on a downward trajectory, county data shows.
“I would think that if we were going to see a significant increase in cases we would have realized those by now,” said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine.
In that same time period, there have been no new COVID-19 infections among the county’s nursing home residents, which was hailed as “phenomenal” by Jared Leavitt, a consultant hired by the county to help control spread of the virus among the county’s 19 facilities that care for the elderly and disabled. Some COVID-19 infections continue to occur among health care workers at those facilities, Leavitt said, but the fact that none have spread to residents is a promising sign that infection controls are working.
And hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients also remain down. There were 67 people in hospitals with confirmed infections as of Sunday compared to 84 on Labor Day and a high of 280 in mid-July.
It all adds up to a good position for the county to be in heading into winter when seasonal flu and upper respiratory illness create higher demand for hospital resources and health care services. Medical providers are banking on the public getting their flu shots in order to keep the seasonal illness at bay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over 6 months old get the flu vaccine.
But officials are urging the public not to take the declining spread of COVID-19 as a sign that life can go back to normal.
“We want to remind ourselves now to keep our guard up,” said Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, in a news conference Friday. He urged people to continue wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings with people outside their household.
Cases rose dramatically following a succession of the spring and early summer holidays like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and Independence Day. On July 7, the county reported its highest number of new daily cases (based on the date the test specimen was collected) of 798 cases. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 peaked a couple of weeks later at 280.
Ghaly noted that some areas of the state are seeing signs of a possible uptick from Labor Day gatherings, the reopening of businesses or wildfires forcing evacuations of residents from certain areas, or likely a combination of all three. And a troubling short-term forecast shows an estimated 89 percent growth in hospitalizations statewide over the next 30 days. That same forecast, however, shows an expected increase in hospitalizations in Kern of about 30 percent in the next month. It also predicts about 100 more deaths in Kern from the virus in the next 30 days.
Ghaly noted that getting COVID-19 cases to the lowest point possible now is important because once it starts to spread again — which is expected to happen this winter — cases can increase exponentially.
“If you‘re at 100 cases a day, doubling to 200 and then 400 is very tolerable,” Ghaly said. “Doubling from 1,000 to 2000, and 2,000 to 4,000, you can see how quickly the case numbers go up and how quickly that creates pressure on our hospitals.”
After this summer, it’s something Kern County knows all too well.