News23ABC In-Depth


Kern County hospitals, schools feeling the impact of COVID surge, strike teams providing help

"We’re experiencing the same staffing shortages"
Posted: 4:21 PM, Jan 11, 2022
Updated: 2022-01-11 21:15:37-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — While Kern County saw a decrease of nearly 4,000 cases from Monday to Tuesday different industries from schools to healthcare workers are still feeling the impacts of the latest COVID-19 surge.

“We receive questions from employers and healthcare agencies, pretty much every single day, asking for help with interpreting the guidance to make sure they are abiding by it," explained Brynn Carrigan, director at the Kern County Public Health Department. "But then also getting their workers back as quickly as possible so that we can continue to provide service to our residents.”

COVID-19 positive is a result thousands of people are seeing across the state and in Kern County. And as guidelines change for testing positive it's causing confusion over isolation and quarantine periods.

“The isolation period has been reduced to five days instead of 10, but we, of course, want to make sure everyone ideally test after day 5, to make sure they have cleared and continue to mask around others is one of the most important things for a total of 10 days,” said California state epidemiologist and Deputy Director Erica Pan.

Dr. Pan went on to explain the new guidelines for healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic may return to work immediately without quarantine or testing.

On Saturday, the state said in part this is “due to the critical staffing shortages currently being experienced across the health care continuum because of the rise in the omicron variant. Effective January 8, 2022, through February 1, 2022, CDPH is temporarily adjusting the return-to-work criteria.”

Temporary Isolation, Quarantine and Return to Work Criteria for HCP

Due to the critical staffing shortages currently being experienced across the health care continuum because of the rise in the Omicron variant, effective January 8, 2022 through February 1, 2022, CDPH is temporarily adjusting the return-to-work criteria. During this time, this guidance will supersede the tables below.

During this time, HCPs who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are asymptomatic may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing, and HCPs who have been exposed and are asymptomatic may return to work immediately without quarantine and without testing. These HCPs must wear an N95 respirator for source control. Facilities implementing this change must have made every attempt to bring in additional registry or contract staff and must have considered modifications to non-essential procedures.

These HCPs should preferably be assigned to work with COVID-19 positive patients. However, this may not always be possible in settings such as the emergency department in which you may not know which patients are COVID-19 positive or in areas where you may be experiencing extreme staffing shortages.

- California Department of Public Health

Critical Staffing Shortages at Hospitals, Schools

President and CEO of Memorial Hospital Ken Keller told 23ABC that hospital staff is also feeling the effects of COVID.

“As of last night, we had about 120 of our overall employees that were out either in quarantine or with COVID itself, which is about 7 percent of our overall staff.”

School districts are also in the same boat. Russell Sentes, the chief administrator of operations for the Rosedale Union School District said: “We’re not any different than anyone else at this point. We’re experiencing the same staffing shortages, mainly due to COVID-related issues.”

Sentes said bus driver shortages have been the number one issue.

“Bussing for one has always been a staffing issue. We are constantly seeking out bus drivers, and we have a job posting that never comes down.”

State strike teams in Kern County

Strike Teams Help Kern County Deal with COVID Surge

Meanwhile, California Health and Human Services reported as of Sunday, the San Joaquin Valley only had 15.9 percent of ICU space available, that's the lowest percentage throughout the state.

In Kern County officials said they were ready, with help from the state already here.

While the county continues to face the predicted surge of COVID cases due to the omicron variant, hospitals are continuing to see an increase in patients for other illnesses. That’s why state strike teams are helping with healthcare.

Carrigan stated, “So, we have multiple different strike teams in place and then also in the works for Kern County.”

She said the several different strike teams in the county, all serve different purposes.

“We do have two different strike teams in place that are expanding hospital bed capacity both regular beds and ICU beds to ensure that if our residents do need a hospital bed, that we have beds available for them here in Kern County.”

Emergency Response Help from Outside Kern County

There are also teams in place to assist with 911 response calls, to help residents get the care they need as quickly as possible.

“So, we have ambulances here from out of Kern County that are assisting. When you call 911, you may end up getting an ambulance that’s from another county. Just ensuring that when you call 911, you get the service that you expect.”

Lastly, there are teams that arrived this week, to specifically help with getting people off of the ambulance at hospitals.

“We also have 3 strike teams in the works that will be deployed this week to local hospitals, those strike teams will assist with offloading ambulances when they arrive to the emergency room so those ambulances can turn right back around and get out to respond to another 911 call.”

Carrigan explained those teams will also assist with emergency room care while those patients wait to be admitted into the hospital, to get the permanent bed they need.