The number of COVID-19 case in Tulare County continue to be high. And they could be even higher than what's being reported.
That was the message presented by Tulare County Health and Human Services director Tim Lutz during his weekly presentation at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. It was his first report in two weeks as the board didn't meet last week.
Lutz stated the state announced late Monday night there has been an error with their reporting system, so many of the numbers being reported as far as COVID-19 is concerned could actually be lower than what they actually are.
Lutz also reported the state finally released late Monday night criteria for elementary schools to seek a waiver allowing them to open for in-person learning at least to some extent. Lutz also reported elementary schools in Tulare County won't be able to open now because the county doesn't meet the criteria — but should go ahead and apply for the waiver so they can open when the county does meet the criteria.
“Unfortunately some of these numbers are underreported at this point as opposed to overreported,” stated Lutz about data that has been reported.
He said the number of cases reported in Tulare County over the last two weeks has increased from 393 per 100,000 to 593.5 per 100,000. “That number might actually be higher,” Lutz said.
And that number is well above the number set in the criteria for schools to seek a waiver to open. The state has issued a mandate that schools in counties which are on the state watch list, including Tulare County, can't open to in-person learning and must continue social distance learning.
For schools that seek a waiver to be able to reopen, they need to be in a county in which the rate of cases is 200 or less per 100,000, so Tulare County is still well above that threshold.
Schools must also apply for the waiver 14 days prior to their desired opening date. When Supervisor Peter Vander Poel asked if schools should begin applying for the waiver now to be ready to open when the county does meet the criteria, Lutz replied: “I think that is the intended goal. Absolutely. The more we can do now, the better.”
Schools can only apply for a waiver for kindergarten through sixth grades. There are also other challenges the county faces when meeting the criteria for school openings such as the testing requirements of staff and the contact tracing requirements as well.
Lutz said public schools who are concerned about broadband access when it comes to virtual learning and private schools in the county have expressed interest in applying for the waiver.
As far as testing, the positivity rate in Tulare County dropped to 13.9 percent last week from 16.7 percent the previous week. But because there's an error in the state reporting system, Lutz said, “we might actually see that up tick.”
When it comes to the need for testing, the issue of mobile testing, particularly of farmworkers, came up. There's no denying the increased numbers Tulare County are seeing are due to what's happening with farmworkers and the Hispanic community or as Supervisor Dennis Townsend put it: “Farm labor is being a huge vector.”
There have been 5,448 COVID-19 cases that have been Hispanic, which represents almost 55 percent of all cases in Tulare County.
But there's also the issue of isolating farmworkers who test positive. In his recent announced effort to protect essential workers, including farmworkers, Governor Gavin Newsom presented the Housing for the Harvest program which would be used to isolate farmworkers.
Lutz noted there are “major pockets in the county that need enhanced testing.”
“That's what our major focus is right now,” added Lutz about the county's mobile testing effort. He added he expects the county to be able to roll out mobile testing more extensively in the next month or so.
With that in mind, a state unified support team will be working with Tulare County when it comes to testing and other issues concerning COVID-19.
Newsom announced last week the unified support teams would be sent to Central California along with $52 million in federal funds to battle COVID-19. The goal is essentially to contain what's happening in the Valley similar to the state's effort contain what has been happening in Imperial County.
Tulare County is receiving $5.7 million. Members of a unified support team began meeting with county and city leaders in Fresno County on Monday and Lutz said similar meetings will be held in Tulare County.
Lutz said the county will work with the unified support team on a comprehensive needs assessment for what needs to be done.
He added the state is well aware of the challenges in the Valley, saying the state is “fortunately recognizing some of the major challenges the Valley has with its workforce and essential workers.”
Other issues the unified support team will review is the possible need for more ICU beds and alternate care facilities.
The issue of ICU bed capacity has become a factor at Sierra View Medical Center as the hospital reported as of Monday seven of its 10 ICU beds were in use.
The county reported only 5.8 percent of its ICU beds were available. The state target is 20 percent.
As far as total hospitalizations, Lutz stated in his department's last report there were 101 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulare County, which remains high enough to effect overall capacity.
When it comes to the Porterville Alternate Care Site at Porterville Developmental Center, the number of cases was down to 15. The site has had a total of 58 cases.
Lutz said the department has received 207 complaints of noncompliance by businesses. Lutz said only 18 of the complaints have been referred to the state's strike teams which are enforcing guidelines for possible citation.
Lutz reported as of August 1, Tulare County's R number which projects how fast the rate of the virus will spread was 1.13. That number still represents Tulare County has a rate that's expected to be “likely increasing,” meaning the rate if increase is expected to be even higher than it is now. The number 1.13 represents the average number of people one infected person is expected to infect.
Lutz also reported the state has come out with guidelines when it comes to youth sports. The guidelines state youth sports should only be held when sufficient distancing is possible, so effectively virtually all youth sports when it comes to competition wouldn't be allowed.
The guidelines state physical conditioning is allowed, but again only when social distancing is possible. And adult amateur sports are also not allowed.
In addition, Lutz reported his department's response to COVID-19 has cost $3.53 million.
BY THE NUMBERS
Lutz reported on Tuesday Tulare County has now had 9,990 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 245 over the previous day.
He also reported there was four more deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in Tulare County to 193. All four of the deaths weren't related to nursing homes. There have been 111 deaths related to nursing homes and 82 deaths not related to nursing homes.
The state model did project a decrease in deaths in Tulare County. It projects the county to have 314 deaths by September 3, which is down significantly from the 407 deaths previously projected.
There have been 6,850 people in Tulare County who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19, an increase of 173 over the previous day. But the number of active cases in Tulare County still increased by 68 over the previous day to 2,947.
There are 546 confirmed COVID-19 cases in nursing homes.
In its latest update, the department reported there has been 1,491 cases in the Porterville area, 82 cases in Terra Bella, 112 cases in Strathmore, 411 cases in Lindsay, 22 cases in foothill-mountain communities, 61 cases in Richgrove, 427 cases in Earlimart, 208 cases in Pixley, 41 cases in Tipton, 174 cases in Exeter, 1,369 cases in Tulare, 1,090 cases in Dinuba, 385 cases in Orosi, 61 cases in Cutler, 47 cases in Traver, 33 cases in Goshen, 11 cases in the Reedley area, 11 cases in Orange Cove, 113 cases un Woodlake, 261 cases in Farmersville and 105 cases in Ivanhoe.
In Visalia there has been 1,187 cases in one region, 705 cases in another region and 785 cases in a third region.
Next to Hispanics, there have been 990 cases who have been Caucasian, 133 have been Asian, 41 have been African-American, 11 have been Native American, 137 have been multi-race and 3,230 are unknown.
There have been 1,263 cases ages 0-17, 1,573 cases ages 18-25, 2,829 cases ages 26-40, 3,153 cases ages 41-64 and 1,163 cases ages 65 and older.
There have been 68 cases reported as travel-related, 3,338 cases due to person-to-person contact and 6,584 cases are under investigation.
There are 314 people in Tulare County who are under self-quarantine and being monitored by public health officials.
As of Monday, Visalia's Kaweah Delta Hospital reported it has 76 COVID-19 hospitalizations. The hospital reported it has 93 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19and 189 employees who have recovered.
Kaweah Delta reported it had eight ventilators in use and 43 were still available. The hospital also reported it has had 2,971 COVID-19 positive tests.
As of Monday, Sierra View reported it had 26 COVID-19 hospitalizations and four patients suspected of having COVID-19. Sierra View reported it had five of 18 ventilators in use.
Sierra View has had 28 deaths due to COVID-19. Sierra View reported it has had 221 positive tests. Sierra View reported it has seven employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 29 employees who have recovered.
When it comes to Tulare County's overall rate with a population of about 470,000 people, the county has had a rate of a little more than 1 out of every 50 residents, or about 2 percent.
An encouraging sign is Tulare County's doubling time – the amount of days it would take for cases to double — remains relatively high at 30.3 days. That would indicate a flattening of the curve of cases.