What Kern County’s “low” COVID transmission rate means

“We do still have transmission."
Posted: 3:25 PM, Mar 23, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-23 19:26:27-04
According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, in the best-case scenario -- which is a high vaccination rate, coupled with a variant with low transmission -- COVID cases only rise by 3 million through the end of the year, along with an additional 32,000 deaths.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — As the country returns to pre-pandemic life, according to the CDC the risk for COVID-19 here in Kern County is now considered “low."

Kern County Public Health said reaching a low transmission rate is a huge milestone for Kern County.

A map by the CDC measures COVID-19 community levels by county. While five counties are still considered to have a medium risk, most counties in California are also at the low risk of COVID-19 transmission.

According to the CDC, when determining high, medium, or low community risks, the agency looks at three things: hospital admissions, the total number of new cases in the area over the past week, and the percentage of hospital beds used by COVID-19 patients.

To be considered to have a “low community level”, the CDC said the county has fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Kern County has reported 89 new cases as of Wednesday.

Local medical professionals say moving to low community levels is encouraging but there are more factors to keep in mind.

“We have easier access to at-home tests and people don’t always notify the health department when their tests are positive which can make our positivity rates look a little bit lower than they actually are,” said Deanna Padilla, Family Nurse Practitioner and Associate Medical Director at Omni Family Health.

Kern County’s current case rate per 100,000 people is 71.65.

Michelle Corson with Kern County Public Health said this is the lowest the county’s case and hospitalization rate has been since July 2021. Even though both vaccination and testing rates have slowly declined in our community.

“We do still have transmission, we do still have cases, we do still have hospitalizations, but it has really decreased, and we have really moved from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase of COVID-19.”

Corson said there is no surge predicted in the future but because of the uncertainty of the virus, getting vaccinated continues to be the most important way to protect yourself.

Currently, 51.7% of Kern County’s total population is fully vaccinated while 41% of the eligible population is boosted.

“Both vaccination and testing rates have slowly declined here in our community, so this is something we have seen a decrease in over the past several weeks without a doubt it has definitely slowed.”

Vaccination rates are lower than counties like L.A. where 75.4% of residents are vaccinated, and in San Diego County where 81.4% are fully vaccinated. Those counties are also considered to have low community levels.

Padilla said the decrease in Kern’s vaccination rates is concerning: “Most of the patients that come in at this point, if they are not vaccinated, they don’t want to be.”

Corson said even though cases are low, keeping up with your health and getting vaccinated is still important.

“You know you may have put off a lot of that preventative care during the pandemic, now is the time to really focus on your overall health because a lot of us have really shoved that to the side so you know, eat healthy, exercise, go to those preventative appointments that you may have put off.”

For more information about COVID-19 community levels, you can visit CDC’s website to learn more about the status of community transmission in other areas of the state.

According to Michelle Corson of the Kern County Public Health Department:

What are the biggest takeaways from the last two years?

At the onset of the COVD pandemic, we knew nothing about this novel disease. Like other viruses, COVID-19 mutates and changes, and through surveillance and other efforts we have learned many things like the benefits of vaccination against severe illness and death and treatment options for the disease.

While this disease has plagued us over the past 2 years and had tragic impacts on many people, it also has truly demonstrated how incredible our community is. Our successes were definitely seen in our hospital preparedness efforts. Enhancing the ICU nurse coverage in our hospitals and implementing hospital expansion efforts were instrumental in maintaining patient care with hospitalization levels higher than we have seen here in Kern.

Public Health has learned how important partnerships such as with the Kern County Latino Task Force, Kern County Farmworkers Association, MLK Initiative, Bakersfield Sikh Women’s Association, and many other local agencies are to get vital messages to communities through trusted messengers.

We also learned the importance of employing non-traditional outreach efforts to reach our diverse outlying communities. We had canvassers deployed in communities going door to door with prevention tips, testing, and vaccination information to answer questions and set up COVID vaccine information booths in convenient areas within our community.

Are we ready for the next pandemic?

We are constantly training and preparing ourselves to respond to any potential health threat, including another pandemic. We have deployed innovative solutions to challenges we faced during the COVID pandemic that have proven successful. These solutions are now resources that we have and can implement sooner should we face another pandemic.

Additionally, we have built strong relationships with stakeholders throughout this pandemic, including schools, hospitals, healthcare providers, and community-based organizations. These relationships will benefit the community with a robust collaborative response to a future pandemic.

We have an infrastructure of vaccination and testing providers in place, and can ramp up our efforts if needed.

What should we be doing now to remain safe?

Monitoring CDC’s COVID-19 community level for Kern County can help residents make decisions based on how active transmission is in our community. Recommendations for low level of COVID-19, which is how Kern County is currently ranked are as follows:

1. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination and booster
2. Maintain improved ventilation in indoor spaces
3. Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
4. Having a plan for rapid testing and talking to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, pre-exposure prophylaxis and monoclonal antibodies if you are immunocompromised or at high-risk for severe illness.

Other layers of protection that can be used by community members are:

1. Masking in high-risk settings
2. Washing hands often
3. Stay home when sick
4. Gather outdoors

23ABC In-Depth

Where does California stand in regards to COVID levels?

There's some good news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday as most if not, all of the United States is now considered at a low level for risk of COVID-19.

CDC U.S. COVID-19 Community Levels by County Map

23ABC took an in-depth look at the CDC's latest numbers and has more on where Kern County and other counties in California currently stand.

How CDC Measures the COVID-19 Community Levels

CDC looks at the combination of three metrics — new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population in the past 7 days, the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past 7 days — to determine the COVID-19 community level. New COVID-19 admissions and the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied represent the current potential for strain on the health system. Data on new cases acts as an early warning indicator of potential increases in health system strain in the event of a COVID-19 surge. Using these data, the COVID-19 community level is classified as low, medium, or high.

- CDC U.S. COVID-19 Community Levels

At last check, Kern County is now at the low-risk level, dropping from medium last week.

This means masks are no longer required for any setting except medical facilities and public transportation and of course unless you want to wear one.

As for the state, it's mostly a sea of green indicating most areas are also now at the low-risk level.

CDC U.S. COVID-19 Community Levels by County Map

Only five counties remain at yellow or medium-risk: Del Norte, Trinity, Shasta, Modoc and Tuolumne.

At the low-risk level, the CDC recommends:

For Individual and Household-level Prevention Behaviors

  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
  • Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
  • Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
  • If you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease
  • Have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing)
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, PrEP, and monoclonal antibodies

For Community-level Prevention Strategies (as recommended by state or local authorities)

  • Distribute and administer vaccines to achieve high community vaccination coverage and ensure health equity
  • Maintain improved ventilation in public indoor spaces
  • Ensure access to testing, including through point-of-care and at-home tests for all people
  • Communicate with organizations and places that serve people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease to ensure they know how to get rapid testing
  • Ensure access and equity in vaccination, testing, treatment, community outreach, support services for disproportionately affected populations