Tulare County Health and Human Services Director Tim Lutz's first word of his weekly presentation on the status of COVID-19 at Tuesday's Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting pretty much summed up everything he was going to cover.
“Unfortunately,” said Lutz as he began his presentation, referring to another large increase of COVID-19 cases in Tulare County on Tuesday.
Lutz covered numerous issues including the opening of the Porterville Developmental Center alternative care facility and another outbreak at a nursing home, this time Porterville Convalescent Home.
Tulare County Health and Human Services also had to meet a deadline Tuesday to avoid the state from stepping in when it came to officially issuing an order for bars in the county to shut down.
Lutz said Tulare County has seen its highest week-to-week total of COVID-19 cases to date. He said there's been a 21 percent increase in the last week.
He reported on Tuesday there have now been 4,156 COVID-19 cases in Tulare County, an increase of 284 over what was reported on Monday. But again, Tuesday is normally when the highest increase of cases is reported when all of the tests from over the weekend are processed.
Lutz also reported two more deaths due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total of deaths to 126 in Tulare County. There have been 10 deaths due to COVID-19 during the last week. The state model is now predicting Tulare County to have 218 deaths by July 30
The number of cases over the past week in Tulare County has increased to 283 per 100,000. That's way above the 25 per 100,000 the state would like to see.
One encouraging number was the number of recoveries did increase substantially. Lutz reported the number of people in Tulare County who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19 is 3,006, an increase of 155 over the 2,851 that was reported on Monday.
There was also another huge increase in the number of active cases, up to 1,024. That's an increase of 127 over the 897 reported on Monday. The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continues to increase considerably and is up to 66. Of those hospitalizations, 12 are in intensive care.
The number of confirmed cases in nursing homes in Tulare County has also increased considerably and is now up to 442.
Lutz reported the latest outbreak at Porterville Convalescent where 23 residents and 11 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Lutz also reported on other businesses and facilities that have had positive cases. He updated the number who tested positive at the Tulare County Pretrial facility in Visalia which is now 13.
He also reported food processing facilities remain a significant source of COVID-19 cases and cases continue to be reported at retail businesses and wholesale distribution centers. The Recorder continues to receive anonymous tips on cases happening at various local businesses.
There have been 19 Tulare County residents from the Harris Ranch in Selma who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The highest increase in cases in Tulare County has been the 0-18 age group, which has increased 68 percent in the last 14 days. The next highest increase has been in the ages of 26-40 which has been 52 percent.
Lutz said that's not surprising as elderly people continue to be more cautious and staying at home while younger people are getting out and about. He said “face-to-face interactions are contributing to the spread.”
So again Lutz brought up the issues of social distancing and wearing masks when it comes to the county maintaining local control of reopening its economy. Health experts say its especially important for those who don't show symptoms to wear masks as they still may spread the virus to others. “Masks are an important step to help mitigate the spread,” Lutz said.
Tulare County's R-eff value, a state model that measure how fast the virus is spreading, remains at 1.2, which means effectively the virus is spreading in the county at a high level. The number 1.0 means the spread is stable.
Despite all of the troubling data as of Monday, the county's doubling time — the amount of days it would take for cases to double — remains relatively high at 24.4 days, suggesting a relatively flat curve in cases.
With a population of about 470,000 people, Tulare County has an overall rate of cases at about 8.2 per 1,000 or .82 percent.
Lutz said any actions the state could take in to re-shutting down the county's economy could be like a “dimmer switch” in which it chooses to gradually do so.
The first step the state took in that direction was Governor Gavin Newsom calling for bars in Tulare County to be closed. Twenty-seven bars would be effected by that order in Tulare County.
The health department needed to officially issue the order to shut down bars, otherwise the state would have done so.
Tulare County is currently on the state watch list and even if the county was removed from the state watch list, bars in the county would still have to wait 14 days after the county was removed from the state watch list to reopen if the state issued the order.
With the county issuing the order, it gives itself more flexibility to reopen the bars possibly sooner. “There are definite tradeoff with a local order and a state order,” Lutz said.
“It could possibly allow some industries to open up sooner,” added Lutz about any future actions when it comes to local control.
He added in the future there “could be a wide range of industries the state could come in and look to close.”
When it comes to the definition of bars it's essentially establishments that serve alcohol but don't provide dine-in service. Lutz said large gatherings at these types of places have contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
Restaurants that have bars can still have those bars open as long as those who are sitting at the bars are eating.
Lutz said a phased opening of the PDC was scheduled to begin on Tuesday or sometime this week. He said the facility would initially be able to house 50 beds with the potential to expand to 150 beds.
He said it's planned for patients who don't need intensive care to be housed at the facility. “If we do have a surge, we have adequate space,” said Lutz about the PDC facility.
The positive rate of those who have been tested from last week has been adjusted, Lutz said. Lutz said originally last week's positive testing rate was nine percent, but it has been adjusted to 8.4 percent, just above the state threshold of 8 percent.
He added this week's positive rate is 8.4 percent, but expects that number to come down as well because it takes longer for results from commercial testing sites to be known.
He also said the county is virtually meeting its testing capacity. He added the county is also able to do such measures as mobile testing and temporary testing sites if necessary. “I feel comfortable that we can expand if the demand is there,” Lutz said.
There have been 56 cases in Tulare County that have been travel-related, 1,765 due to person-to-person contact and 2,335 are under investigation.
There have been 478 cases ages 0-17, 593 cases ages 18-25, 1,074 cases ages 26-40, 1,332 cases ages 41-64 and 679 cases ages 65 and older.
The county also updated numbers by ethnicity and the vast majority of cases have been with Hispanics at 2,158. There have been 463 cases with caucasians, 75 cases with Asians, 19 cases with African-Americans, 11 cases with Native Americans, 39 cases have been multi-race and 1,391 cases are unknown.
The number of those in Tulare County who are in self-quarantine and being monitored by public health officials remains the same at 985.
There have now been 569 cases reported in the Porterville area. The three Visalia regions have the following numbers: 492, 360 and 378.
There have been 587 cases in Dinuba and 623 cases in Tulare. The official tally for Lindsay is 201 cases.
There have been nine cases in foothill/mountain communities, 98 cases in Pixley, 18 cases in Terra Bella, 17 cases in Tipton, 11 cases in Richgrove, 164 cases in Earlimart, 52 cases in Exeter, 13 cases in Goshen, 21 cases in Traver, 177 cases in Orosi, 36 cases in Woodlake, 11 cases in the Reedley area and 11 cases in Orange Cove.
As of 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sierra View Medical Center had 87 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 18 inpatient COVID-19 cases. Sierra View has had 16 deaths due to COVID-19.
As of Sunday, the hospital had 2,233 tests conducted while 9,705 tests have been conducted at the Tulare County testing lab.