COVID-19 cases spike in local youth, hospitalizations rise

Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, Sheriff, hospital CEOs hold presser in light of rising COVID-19 cases in younger demographics

VISALIA – Prior to the Saturday’s Independence Day bash, local health officials and hospital CEOs implored the community to remain safe, sane and socially distant in light of a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

According to Health and Human Services Agency director, Tim Lutz, the highest increase in cases has been in younger demographics. He said during a weekly presentation to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on June 30 that the 0-17 age group has seen a 68% increase over the previous 14 days. The 26-40 age group saw an increase of 52%. Also over the previous 14 days.

Over the total 5,009 COVID-19 cases that have come through Tulare County, 0-17 claims 583; 18-25 has 754; 26-40 is over 1,300; 41-64 has the most cases with over 1,600 and those 65 and older have made up 749 cases.

“What we are seeing in the younger demographics is more face-to-face interactions which are contributing to the spread,” Lutz said during the June 30 board meeting.

During a Friday press conference Lutz said that Tulare County has seen a dramatic increase to their case rate throughout June. Lutz said the county’s case rate as of Friday was 329.3 per 100,000 people. HHSA public information officer, Carrie Monteiro said the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) sets the bar at no more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents to safely reopen the economy.

Lutz said during the Friday press conference that the CDPH is looking to see a daily positive case rate of 8% or lower. He added that as of June 27 Tulare County was at 8.4%. The daily case rate is tracked on a 14 day average. But daily case rate is not the only factor the state is considering when lifting the irpublic health order that shut down bars and wide swaths of the entertainment industry.

Lutz said that the state is also taking a hard look at hospitalizations. The state is hoping to see a stabilized or declining trend in hospitalizations in combination with a declining daily case rate.

Tulare County board vice chair, Amy Shuklian said that the state could well reinstitute stay at home orders if cases continue to rise in the county. As well, Monteiro said that if the county fails to contain the spread the state’s public health officer may step in. Although, Monteiro said that it’s unclear what would happen if the sate decides to directly intervene in Tulare County.

Hospitalizations on the rise

Kaweah Delta Medical Center CEO, Gary Herbst, along with Sierra View Medical Center CEO, Donna Hefner spoke about the impact the resurging virus has had on their respective hospitals since the beginning of June.

Herbst recounted that Kaweah Delta had approximately 400 beds open during March and April to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients that never materialized. As a result, Herbst said the hospital was forced to furlough employees.

As of Friday, Herbst said that the hospital is at 90% capacity and have 14 available beds for COVID-19 patients. Herbst added that the hospital has 51 COVID-19 patients. Of those 51, 18 are in critical care and seven are on ventilators. Meanwhile, staff is still taking care of other patients.

Since major outbreaks stifled the county in March and April, the Kaweah Delta CEO said that 150 employees contracted the virus. And 50 nurses were forced into quarantine at home, while other’s took a leave of absence in order to avoid contracting the disease and then spreading it at home.

But what Herbst emphasized, just before the July Fourth holiday was how much the hospital needs the community’s help.

“The breakout of the virus can overwhelm the hospital,” Herbst said. “Please be vigilant and think about your fellow human beings…we ask that you wear a mask to protect you…but to also protect other people.”

Hefner echoed Herbst pleas to the community to help slow the spread. She implored the community follow social distancing protocols to limit interactions with others, and wear a mask in public. She added during her remarks on Friday that Sierra View had seen a significant increase in cases over the previous week.

“We are seeing the surge in the community that is causing people to become very, very sick…I’m asking you to become part of the solution,” Hefner said.

According to the Tulare County HHSA COVID-19 Response website, hospitalizations in the county surged from 18 on June 1 to 67 as of July 4. The web site dashboard states that as of Monday, July 6, 45 ventilators are in use, and eight out of 89 surge beds are currently being used.

Sheriff on board

Tulare County Sheriff, Mike Boudreaux joined Supervisor Shuklian along with Herbst, Hefner and Lutz, in their call for everyone to wear masks in public.

“I’ve said it in the past that law enforcement’s function should not be to cite or arrest people not wearing a mask…we do need to wear our masks. We need to be a responsible community,” Boudreaux said.

The sheriff added that instead of taking on a traditional enforcement role, he and his deputies have decided to offer educational fliers. Complete with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the fliers spell out the need for appropriate hygiene, the importance of social distancing and wearing a mask in public. The fliers are be in both English and Spanish, Boudreaux said..

Boudreaux said that the sheriff’s department is also offering masks to anyone who needs one, or wants one. And he reinforced the county’s medical staff.

“If you don’t believe a mask does anything, and our medical experts say that it does, let’s rely on our medical staff and wear those masks,” Boudreaux said.

Sheriff Boudreaux said during the press conference that the department will drop off masks if businesses call and request them. In addition, deputies will hand them out if asked.

However, in terms of the public health order, Boudreaux took his first step toward meaningful enforcement when he said he would assist state agencies who request help while carrying out an order. Until now, the county and many of the other Tulare County communities have taken a laissez faire approach to public health enforcement.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors made the most significant push against Governor Gavin Newsom in May. The board voted 3-2 to not civilly enforce the state’s public health order through Stage 3 of the state’s resiliency roadmap. The vote unevenly reopened parts of the local economy, exposing bars and restaurants serving alcohol to fines or license revocation from state run Alcohol and Beverage Control.

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