Kern no longer meeting state COVID-19 thresholds
Kern County is no longer meeting state thresholds for managing COVID-19 transmission as of Thursday morning and is now one of 11 counties on a state watchlist.
"Kern County is experiencing elevated disease transmission and increasing hospitalization," says an entry for the county on the California Department of Public Health's "targeted engagement" list.
The website says drivers of elevated virus spread in Kern are outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and in state and federal prisons, and residents in surrounding counties being admitted to the county hospital.
"It's very important that all residents in Kern County and all businesses that are reopening follow public health guidance," county Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said during a news briefing Thursday morning. "Those guidelines need to be followed; if you're going out to eat or get a haircut it's important you follow the guidance of the establishment where you're going."
Counties on the watchlist may have to implement local shutdown orders or pull back on some reopenings if they can't find ways to effectively stem virus spread, but no specific triggers are in place at this time.
The county reported 74 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday morning, bringing total cases to date in Kern to 3,026. Deaths remain at the previously reported 51.
The state has reported that 26 of the deaths and at least 135 of the diagnosed cases in Kern were residents of nursing homes, and at least an additional 75 cases were among health care workers in nursing homes. Of Kern's 19 state-regulated nursing homes, 12 have had health care workers test positive, county officials said. And at least two facilities have active outbreaks among patients.
The state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website shows nine cases among state prison inmates in Kern County. A county monitoring chart from the state health department shows Kern is out of compliance for its positivity rate and its increase in hospitalizations.
A county must not have more than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in a recent 14-day period and a positivity rate above 8 percent in a recent seven-day period, according to state thresholds. Kern is seeing 78 cases per 100,000 residents and its positivity rate was 8.2 percent on Thursday.
Additionally, counties that have a 10 percent increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients during the past three days compared to the previous three days are deemed to be above the acceptable threshold. Kern's rate was 24 percent as of Thursday.
Once a county is on the state's watchlist, the state health department protocols say the state will work with the the county on how to respond.
"If a county is not able to address a localized outbreak it should consider reinstitution sector limitations or more general stay-at-home provisions," according to information from the state health department’s website.
Kern County is currently exploring what it will do, Alsop said. But in the meantime, the county is allowing any businesses in any industry to reopen for which the state has issued guidance. That includes retail stores, office buildings, campgrounds, casinos, day camps, movie theaters, gyms, hotels, museums, zoos, restaurants, bars, wineries, houses of worship and schools.
The county is monitoring businesses that reopen to ensure they adhere to guidance and has relied on education since the start of the pandemic to get cooperation from both businesses and the public.
"We are going to continue to have those discussions. ... if we're not able to address those trends, we may have to act locally in some way to pull back. That doesn't mean we close everything down necessarily but we're going to have to be open to considering actions that we may need to take if we're unsuccessful in getting upward trends under control," Alsop said.
If the county still fails to make sufficient progress, the state's public health officer has the authority to intervene and take action.