A COVID-19 surge has strained resources at Tehachapi’s only hospital. 

Statistics released by Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley showed that at least 80 percent of its 25 beds were used for COVID-19 patients on three days last week — and all four Intensive Care Unit beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients on six days since Oct. 20. 

On Oct. 11 the hospital began releasing statistics on its Facebook page, with postings nearly every weekday. Data released includes the total number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, the number in ICU and the vaccination status of patients.

An average of 80 percent of the COVID-19 patients between Oct. 20 and Nov. 5 had not been fully vaccinated, the data shows. 

Edward Martin, administrative director of operations, said the COVID-19 surge puts additional stress on healthcare workers and also means that limited resources are not available for others, sometimes requiring postponement of elective or non-emergency procedures.

To provide social distancing for patients with COVID-19 symptoms, Martin said, the hospital has tent space near the rear of the ER which was provided by the International Medical Corps. Weather permitting, another outdoor waiting area is also available.

In some communities experiencing COVID-19 surges, the California National Guard has assisted hospitals. So far that hasn’t been needed in Tehachapi, Martin said, although the hospital has used traveling nurses and respiratory therapists to augment local staffing.

In the Facebook posts, the hospital reminds individuals “to wear a mask, social distance and get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect yourself, your family and our community.”

High community transmission

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kern County is part of a large swath of the country where community transmission of COVID-19 is currently high. 

Countywide, there had been 163 new hospital admissions in the 7-day period ending Nov. 7, according to CDC data. The CDC data for the week ending Nov. 5 showed a slight drop in Kern County’s cases and death rate over the prior week. Throughout the county, there were 2,442 new cases and 37 deaths. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been about 151,432 cases of COVID-19 countywide and about 1,700 deaths.

The county does not provide a great deal of detail about cases, deaths or vaccination rates for specific communities. However, the Kern County Public Health Services website reports a total of 5,367 cases in 93561 (Tehachapi) as of Nov. 6 — most of which have resolved.

Whether the volume of patients admitted to the hospital in Tehachapi will level out in the coming week — as it seems to have countywide — remains to be seen.

But Kern Public Health Services said in a news release last week that recent modeling by the state's California COVID-19 Assessment Tool (CalCAT) indicates a winter surge is a real possibility, and that waning immunity to COVID-19 is a primary factor.

The worst-case scenario in Kern County shows another surge beginning in early December and peaking in mid-January with an average of 748 new cases per day. The same model shows hospitalizations peaking at 559 countywide on Jan. 20 — and deaths from COVID-19 climbing to 2,297 by March 1. 

Officials said increased vaccination — and boosters for some populations — could help avoid those predictions.

CCI

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has tracked and presented data regarding COVID-19 to the public since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to information available on Nov. 7, 82 percent of the inmates and 49 percent of staff at the California Correctional Institution have been fully vaccinated. However, the CDCR website notes that reported vaccination rates for staff may underrepresent actual vaccination rates as personnel may receive vaccinations from community healthcare providers and not all staff are required to report vaccination status at this time.

Online data as of Nov. 6 showed CCI operating normally, with no new confirmed inmate cases in the last 14 days. Of the 2,675 people incarcerated there, 17 percent had been tested in the last 14 days. Since the beginning of the pandemic, four inmates and two staff members at CCI are reported to have died from the virus. The latest information updated as of Oct. 29 showed 11 new staff cases in the previous 14 days and a cumulative 852 staff cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccinations

The county’s vaccination rate lags behind the average for the state and the United States. As of CDC data available on Nov. 7, just 55.7 percent of county residents over the age of 12 were fully vaccinated, compared to just over 72 percent of all of California. Nationally, 68.2 percent of the population over age 12 had been fully vaccinated.

All county residents 5 and over are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. A booster dose of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccine is recommended six months after the second dose for those who are 65 or older. The CDC also recommends the booster for adults who are working or living in high-risk settings, such as skilled nursing residents, health care staff, first-responders, grocery staff, manufacturing workers, corrections, school staff and agriculture workers.

And booster shots are recommended for adults who are at increased risk due to social inequity or who have underlying medical conditions including pregnancy, diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, mental health, smoking and substance use disorders.

Current guidance also recommends a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two months after the initial dose for those 18 or older.

According to the county’s public health website, vaccinations are available in Tehachapi at Rite Aid, OmniHealth, Centric Health, Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley and Kaiser-Permanente. Online registration is offered at https://myturn.ca.gov/ 

Also, the health department operates a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Kern County Fairgrounds, Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information visit www.kernpublichealth.com

Free testing

Martin noted that the hospital no longer does COVID-19 testing in its Emergency Room. Instead, to take the pressure off of staff there and reduce traffic, the hospital provides free testing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Saturday and Tuesday at the Monroe High School gymnasium, 125 S. Snyder Ave., Tehachapi.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported — from mild symptoms to severe illness.

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Possible symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

People with emergency warning signs for COVID-19, according to the CDC,  are advised to seek emergency medical care immediately. These signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake and pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: claudia@claudiaelliott.net.