San Joaquin County, for the moment, has reached its peak in COVID-19 case numbers and is now on a slow downward trend, according to San Joaquin County Public Health Services.

As of Wednesday, San Joaquin County is at 29.2 cases per 100,000 per day for the coronavirus, which caused a new surge in cases over the summer due to the more potent Delta variant. This is a dramatic decrease from case numbers reported on Monday that had the county at 38.4 cases per 100,000 per day.

The SJCPHS also reported 243 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 76 of those patients in intensive care, and have cited that seven ICU beds remain available throughout the county.

The city of Tracy has had 33 new positive COVID-19 cases this week, with four new deaths.

While County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park stressed that San Joaquin County was not yet out of the woods during her presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, she did say that the decline in cases and hospitalizations in the area was a good sign for residents.

“It does look like we reached a peak, and we seem to be moving downward, which is great news. I think we're coming out of this Delta variant surge,” said Park, who showcased a graph that showed the curving trend of cases since March 2020. “Some things to warn you about is that the steepness of that downhill decrease might not in reality reflect what's really going on, because we're still getting cases added to those bars every day.”

Park said holiday celebrations, such as Labor Day, may contribute to the amount of cases reported in the next coming weeks. She also mentioned that the increase in availability for rapid antigen testing may also affect the number of cases reported.

“We know that people are buying them over the counter, and that urgent cares are offering them. And so, we're a little bit concerned that, in those instances where they're not being reported to the state, some of that decrease might be representative of the fact that a lot more antigen tests are being done and not being reported as positive,” said Park. “So what we think is that, in reality, what we might be seeing is more of a plateau and not such a deep steep decline. But yet, a plateau is better than the increasing rise in rates that we were seeing up until now.”

Park said that SJCPHS will have a better idea of the COVID-19 case trends in the coming weeks and is hopeful that she can report in the next month that the county is on the right track to get out of the Delta variant surge.

“About three weeks ago, the state modelers predicted that this delta variant surge would last for four to six weeks. You do see that it's starting to come down in most parts of the state. Our own data scientist also said give it about five weeks. You might see a plateau climb again, and then come down. But I'm expecting that we will come out of this surge in the next several weeks, perhaps month,” said Park.

In the meantime, Park still strongly urges for the public to get vaccinated if they are eligible to mitigate the spread of the virus, stating that the COVID-19 vaccine is still the most reliable way to prevent infection, severe illness or death from the virus.

“For the month of August, really, 92.6% of (COVID-19) deaths were accounted for by people who are unvaccinated,” said Park. “And that's what we strive to do, is share facts. And then people can kind of go from there and make an informed decision. And hopefully people talk to their doctors and pick a reliable source, someone that is a trusted medical authority. It could be the CDC, it could be their personal doctor.”

About 54% of eligible residents in San Joaquin County are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19. SJCPHS reports that the city of Tracy is about 79% fully vaccinated, with 11.2% of residents partially vaccinated.

Park also addressed concerns over the different information that has been put out over the course of the pandemic, saying that information evolves as new data is revealed and new variants of the COVID-19 virus come into play. Health experts in the state and county are currently monitoring at least nine different variants of interest or concern, which they are hoping are not as deadly as the Delta variant.

“The information evolves. Just because we said a while back you can take your masks off, and now we're asking to put them back on, doesn't mean that we're crazy or we’ve changed our minds. It means there's a Delta variant, it's got a very high viral load. And even if you're vaccinated, you can get it. You might not transmit it for very long, because you might not keep it for as long as an unvaccinated person, but you can certainly transmit it to others in a short period of time,” said Park. “You might not get severely ill, hospitalized or even die, but you can be mildly symptomatic, and you can transmit it. This is what we know of the Delta variant. There will be maybe another variant, and we'll again have to study it, learn from it and advise people what they can do to best protect themselves.”

• Contact Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 209-835-3030.

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