The reality anyone really realized was reported at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday: There's no chance of a holiday season happening that won't be significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his weekly report on the status of COVID-19 in Tulare County, Tulare County Health and Human Services Director presented that grim reality. As far as COVID-19 cases are concerned, Lutz said there will be a “heightened transmission for a while, likely into January.”
So any movement from the most restrictive tier, purple, to the next least restrictive tier, red, for Tulare County won't happen until early 2021 at the earliest.
Lutz said there's a “large increase with non-compliant businesses” in the county when it comes to following guidelines.
He added Tulare County continues to have a problem with large gatherings such as weddings and birthdays and the facilities that host them, saying they're “flagrantly violating the state guidelines.”
When it comes to the current situation, Lutz added, “Obviously we are very concerned.”
Another area of concern is the significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulare County which Lutz reported on Tuesday were back up to around 65. COVID-19 hospitalizations had fallen below 30 in the county before the recent increase.
Sierra View Medical Center has been impacted by the surge. Sierra View reported on Monday its number of COVID-19 patients had risen to 19, with six who were suspected of having COVID-19. The number of ICU beds in use increased to seven out of 10 and the number of ventilators in use increased to eight out of 16.
After reporting it had no employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 for a while, Sierra View reported on Monday it now has four employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Sierra View has had 52 deaths due to COVID-19. Lutz reported there were no more deaths on Tuesday, leaving the total of COVID-19 deaths in Tulare County at 301.
He reported there have been six deaths in the last two weeks. The county has data on 297 deaths of which 231 were 65 or older, 62 were between the ages of 41-64 and four were under the age of 41.
There have been 119 deaths related to nursing homes and 178 deaths not related to nursing homes. The state model now projects Tulare County to have 326 deaths by December 17.
Another troubling development has been new outbreaks at three nursing homes, including 19 cases at Porterville's Sequoia Transitional Care and 13 more cases at Visalia's Redwood Springs, which had one of the state's worst outbreaks earlier this year. Lutz reported 62 cases at three nursing homes in Tulare County.
One stat providing a glimmer of hope is Tulare County's R number, which fell from 1.14 to 1.07. That number still indicates Tulare County's rate of increase is “likely increasing,” meaning the rate of increase is expected to continue to climb.
The number 1.07 represents the average number of people who would be infected by one infected person. The state's R number is 1.22.
Last week, the state also issued new travel restrictions in which those who travel in and out of the state must self-quarantine for 14 days. The state is also encouraging people to stay at home for Thanksgiving or to at least not travel out of their region.
When Board Chairman Peter Vander Poel asked what the definition of a region was, Lutz said it essentially encourages people not to travel out of the county. He added the state is discouraging such travel as those from the Central Valley in a harder hit region traveling to the coast which hasn't been hit as hard to prevent the increased spread of the virus to that area.
There's also been some consternation over the state's guidelines for Thanksgiving gatherings, which have been criticized as not being realistic. The guidelines call for no more than three households to gather together, encourage people to gather outdoors and call for gatherings to be no more than two hours.
On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an “emergency brake” in which again the state changed its guidelines for moving from one tier to another or as Lutz put it, “the goal posts changed.” And Lutz added the continued changing of guidelines is “beyond frustrating.”
Among the changes now is a county's adjusted case rate will no longer be based on how many tests are conducted, Lutz said. And the state can move a county from one tier to another at any time during the week as opposed to just on a weekly basis, Lutz added.
Tulare County's overall positive test rate is at about 7 percent, which is below the 8 percent threshold to move into the red tier. Lutz said the county has updated its equity metric positive test rate for its most disadvantaged areas which is now 6.4 percent, which also meets the red tier standard.
But Tulare County continues to be way above the 7 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period to move into the red tier. Lutz said the county's updated case rate is 15.2 per 100,000 while the state's updated rate is 16 cases per 100,000.
Once Tulare County meets all the standards it must maintain those numbers for two weeks before it can move into the red tier. Restaurants would then be able to open at 25 percent capacity, churches would be able to open at 25 percent capacity, movie theaters would be able to open on a limited basis and schools would be able to reopen for all students.
As far as schools, Lutz said there were no changes to the current reopening guidelines for schools. Porterville Unified School District and Burton School District are among those who have been cleared to reopen for grades K-6.
Burton plans to tentatively reopen on January 11 while Porterville hopes to reopen up to three elementary schools a couple weeks before Christmas break. Springville's and Woodville's waivers to reopen are still being reviewed by the county.
BY THE NUMBERS
Lutz reported a large increase of 266 cases on Tuesday. It should be noted the largest increase in cases is reported on Tuesdays as that's the day the recording of cases from the weekend is finished.
Lutz stated in the last week there has been a 7 percent increase in cases over the last two weeks as 1,267 more cases have been reported over that time.
Since March 11 there have been 19,320 cases in Tulare County. The number of recoveries increased by 118 on Tuesday. There are now 18,029 people in Tulare County who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19.
There was also a significant increase in the number of active cases in Tulare County. The number of active cases increased by 148 over the previous day. There are now 990 people in Tulare County who have COVID-19.
Since March 11 there have been 3,280 cases in the Porterville area, 212 cases in Terra Bella, 277 cases in Strathmore, 737 cases in Lindsay, 57 cases in foothill-mountain communities, 3,142 cases in Tulare, 2,026 cases in Dinuba, 145 cases in Richgrove, 121 cases in Tipton, 28 cases in Alpaugh, 336 cases in Pixley, 769 case in Earlimart, 580 cases in Farmersville, 419 cases in Exeter, 336 cases in Woodlake, 394 cases in Cutler, 694 cases in Orosi, 47 cases in Goshen, 100 cases in Traver, 16 cases in the Reedley area and 11 cases in Orange Cove.
In Visalia there have been 2,309 cases in one region, 1,338 cases in another region and 1,585 cases in a third region.
There have been 2,739 cases ages 0-17, 3,069 cases ages 18-25, 5,534 cases ages 26-40, 6,025 cases ages 41-64 and 1,943 cases ages 65 and older.
There are 779 people in Tulare County who are under self-quarantine and being monitored by public health officials.
There have been 11,132 cases who have been Hispanic, 1,954 have been Caucasian, 360 have been Asian, 94 have been African American, 71 have been Native American, 390 have been multi-race and 5,319 are unknown.
With a population of nearly 470,000 people, Tulare County has a rate of 4.5 cases per 100 residents, or 4.5 percent.