Local coronavirus cases are back on the rise again, with new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations because of the illness reaching new highs over the past week.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in Stockton, Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County’s public health officer, reported that new cases and hospitalizations had increased sharply after they had been on the decline from mid-April to mid-May.
The county’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that, as of May 19, there were seven people in hospitals around the county. At the end of that week, May 22, the county authorized the reopening of restaurants and retail stores. New cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise ever since.
Park noted that there had been 28 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, which put San Joaquin County on the state’s watch list to determine whether the county was ready for reopening of more businesses and public venues.
“I was really hoping that at 28 we would stabilize and that we would see a rash of discharges from the hospitals so we could get off this monitoring list, but things have actually become worse,” Park told the board.
On Tuesday, there were 45 county residents hospitalized for COVID-19, including 18 in intensive care units and nine on ventilators, Park told the board. That number was down to 44 on Wednesday
Before the county could reopen retail stores and restaurants three weeks ago, it had to demonstrate to the state that 20 or fewer people were hospitalized in any one day during the previous two-week period, and that new cases over a two-week period totaled less than 195. Park told the board that, in addition to the increased hospitalizations, the county had recorded 366 new cases in the two weeks leading up to Monday.
Since the first case was reported March 6, the county has seen 1,388 people, including 144 in Tracy, test positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday. So far, 866 of those people have recovered.
Daily reports of new cases began declining after a peak of 39 cases reported April 13, but started to climb again the first week of May. Then, on May 29, the county recorded a new high, 45 new cases in a single day. The single-day high is now 70 new cases reported on Wednesday.
There have been 42 deaths in the county since the first death was reported on March 26, including three deaths reported on Monday.
Park suggested that the increase in new cases could be attributed to a few factors, including an increase in gatherings over the past few weeks.
“We believe the most recent case rises are in part related to Memorial Day,” she said, adding that people apparently became less vigilant once some quarantine restrictions were relaxed.
“People might not be so mindful of social distancing practices right now,” she said. “What the public is feeling is, they’re tired of this virus. I know I’m tired of this virus, but the problem is this virus isn’t tired of us.”
Park said that increased testing accounts for many of the new cases, and those new cases tend to be connected to workplaces, followed by household transmission of the virus, with agricultural and food processing workers largely affected. Skilled nursing facilities also account for some of the recent new cases, though the definition of an “outbreak” has been redefined, so that even one person with COVID-19 in a skilled nursing facility is enough to require everyone in that facility to get tested.
At least one local testing site has affirmed that increased testing has found more people who are positive for the coronavirus.
Cheri Greven, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which has a clinic on Tracy Boulevard and a testing site nearby at McKinley Elementary School, said that since the clinic started offering free drive-up testing May 13, it had tested nearly 650 people as of last week. Eleven of them, including 10 Tracy residents, tested positive.
In the month before that, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte had tested 281 people, including first responders, school employees, home health care workers and warehouse workers, and none had tested positive.
Greven said the clinic tested 70 to 85 people each day at first, but that dropped to 25 to 30 a day because the McKinley site was often unavailable. The clinic is now available for drive-up testing, no appointment needed, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
The local resurgence in COVID-19 cases comes at a time when the state has authorized another level of reopening activities that had been shut down because of the COVID-19 quarantine, which has been in place since mid-March but has been steadily relaxed over the past few weeks. As of today, the state has authorized reopening of schools, day camps, casinos and card rooms, hotels for leisure, and some higher-risk businesses and activities, such as gyms and pools, professional sports with no spectators, zoos and museums.
Park said that youth sports, including skills camps, are not on the list, and many have called her office asking when they can get kids back into summer sports. Park said it’s one of the big concerns statewide.
“Health officers are demanding that the state work on this next, so the state promised to start developing this guidance,” she said, adding that there’s still no date set for when that might happen. “They understand that we are getting a lot of demand for this at the local level.”
Park told the board of supervisors that she is concerned, but not alarmed, by the sudden increase in new COVID-19 cases. She noted that, as before, social distancing, avoidance of crowds and hygiene are the keys to reducing the spread of the virus, as well as keeping the public informed.
“I’m going to look at where the numbers are coming from and see what the drivers are, and Public Health is going to do our best to try and create messaging around that,” she said.
She added that, with the county on the state’s watch list, there is now the possibility that reopening of all businesses and public spaces could be subject to restrictions. That’s particularly true if the county doesn’t meet state requirements for reducing hospitalizations and increasing availability of intensive care unit beds.
“If we can’t get our numbers down, I guess that there’s another engagement process in which they start to talk to us about reinstituting limitations,” she said.