Tulare County's COVID-19 case rate continues to hover around the level at what it was in June. But for the county to move into the red tier, it's going to have to improve on those numbers.

And Tulare County also realized a spike in mental health problems with youth in September as three times the number of youth over the number of cases that had been happening had to be hospitalized due to mental health issues.

That was the report given by Tulare County Health and Human Services Director Tim Lutz during his weekly presentation on the status of COVID-19 in the county at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Since March 11 there have now been 16,607 COVID-19 cases in Tulare County. That's an increase of 403 cases in the last week.

While the increased number of cases over the last week remained in the same range as it has been in recent weeks, percentage wise it was a much higher increase than what has been happening. The number cases increased by 9.1 percent in the last week, a substantial increase over the increase of less than 3 percent that had been happening in previous weeks.

“That's a definite setback on our getting to the next tier,” Lutz said. “Overall it continues to remind us not to underestimate COVID-19.”

Tulare County also suffered a setback in its case rate it will take to move from the most restrictive tier — purple — to the next least restrictive tier — red. Last week, concern was expressed over a new requirement to move into red tier which required areas of the county in its lowest quartile — the most disadvantaged areas of the county — to have a positive testing rate of less than eight percent.

But the county actually meets the standards of having a positive testing rate of less than eight percent. While there has been an increase in its positive testing rates, the county still meets the standard.

Tulare County's overall positive testing rate has increased from 6 percent to 6.2 percent while in the lowest quartile, its positive testing rate has increased form 6.2 to 7.2 percent.

But the county realized an increase in its case rate, the other standard it needs to meet to move into the red tier. Tulare County's rate increased from 8.8 to 11.3 cases per 100,000 residents over a 7-day period. To move into the red tier, the county must reduce that number to less than 7 per 100,000.

Lutz said a key to the county lowering its case rate is its continued push to test as many people as possible.

On the first Tuesday in which Tulare County meets all the standards it must maintain those number for two weeks to move into the red tier. When that happens, restaurants can open indoors at 25 percent capacity, churches can open indoors at 25 percent capacity, movie theaters can open on a limited basis and schools can reopen to all of their students.

The number of active cases also continued its gradual rise, increase by 11 over the previous day. On Tuesday there were 606 people in Tulare County who had COVID-19.

The number of recoveries did increase substantially on Tuesday by 106 There are now 15,736 people in Tulare County who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulare County remained the same at 39.

When it came to schools, the report on the mental health problems of youth again demonstrated to the supervisors the importance of trying to open schools for all grades K-12 as soon as possible.

When Lutz was asked by Board Chairman Peter Vander Poel if the state has addressed the mental health issues in youth and the need to open schools K-12, Lutz replied “this issue has not been brought up” as far as the state's response. “We are ignoring a huge portion of our overall person's health and well-being,” Lutz said.

Lutz added while the county didn't have a breakdown of the ages of youth suffering mental health problems, his department would provide a breakdown and he guessed the majority of youth suffering mental health problems were high school age.

As far a waivers to reopen schools in grades K-6, Tulare County continues to make headway in that area. The latest local school to receive approval from the county to open for grades K-6 is Pleasant View. That waiver was still being reviewed by the state as of Tuesday.

Local schools that have been allowed to open for grades K-6 are St. Anne's, Zion Lutheran, Hope and Saucelito.

Local schools who have applied for waivers that are still being reviewed by the county are Roosevelt, Jeffers, Washington, Reagan, Kennedy and Lincoln Schools in Lindsay, Springville, Strathmore, Sunnyside and Rockford.

An encouraging sign is the county didn't appear to realize the spike in cases after Labor Day as it did after Memorial Day and Independence Day. “Clearly we haven't seen a major spike,” Lutz said.

But Lutz again stressed if the county wants to move into the red tier people must continue to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and avoid large groups.

The rate of deaths have also decreased. Lutz reported no new deaths on Tuesday, leaving the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Tulare County at 265.

There were two deaths in the last week, a much lower number than what has happened in the past. The state model projects Tulare County to have 301 deaths by November 5.

Of the 265 deaths, 205 have been 65 or older, 56 have been ages 41-64 and four have been under the age of 41. There have been 119 deaths related to nursing homes and 146 deaths not related to nursing homes.

Another troubling number was Tulare County's R number is back up to the “likely stable” category, meaning cases are expected to rise at their current level. Tulare County's R number is .96 which represents the average number of people one infected person would infect.

BY THE NUMBERS

As of Monday, Sierra View Medical Center reported it had 13 COVID-19 hospitalizations and eight patients suspected of having COVID-19. Sierra View has had 45 deaths due to COVID-19.

Sierra View reported seven of its 10 ICU beds were in use and five of its 18 ventilators were in use. Sierra View reported it now has two employees who have COVID-19 and 49 employees who have recovered. Sierra View has had a total of 351 positive tests.

As of Monday Visalia's Kaweah Delta Hospital reported it had 25 COVID-19 hospitalizations of which seven were in ICU.

Since March 11 there have been 2,652 cases in the Porterville area, 163 cases in Terra Bella, 238 cases in Strathmore, 671 cases in Lindsay, 46 cases in foothill-mountain communities, 141 cases in Richgrove, 28 cases in Alpaugh, 288 cases in Pixley, 91 cases in Tipton, 663 cases in Earlimart, 2,642 cases in Tulare, 1,823 cases in Dinuba, 327 cases in Exeter, 487 cases in Farmersville, 285 cases in Woodlake, 337 cases in Cutler, 593 cases in Orosi, 43 cases in Goshen, 81 cases in Traver, 12 cases in the Reedley area and 11 case in Orange Cove.

In Visalia there have been 2,060 cases in one region, 1,359 cases in another region and 1,141 cases in a third region.

There have been 68 cases reported as travel-related, 5,527 cases due to person-to-person contact and 11,012 cases are under investigation.

There have been 2,347 cases ages 0-17, 2,640 cases ages 18-25, 4,779 cases ages 26-40, 5,155 cases ages 41-64 and 1,676 cases ages 65 and older.

There have been 9,399 cases who have been Hispanic, 1,590 have been caucasian, 299 have been Asian, 73 have been African American, 50 have been Native American, 314 have been multi-race and 4,882 are unknown.

There are 521 people in Tulare County who are under self-quarantine and being monitored by public health officials.

With a population of nearly 470,000 people, Tulare County's overall rate has been a little more than 3.5 cases per 100 residents or 3.5 percent.

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