Jul. 23—A predictive model managed by the California Department of Public Health says Kern County is at the start of a third wave of coronavirus infections that will continue to increase over the next several months.
Under the worst-case scenario outlined in the model, the wave will peak in mid-November, with around 230 new cases per day. The figure is short of both the roughly 590-case peak from COVID-19's first wave in July 2020 and the 916 new daily cases from the peak of the second wave in January of this year.
An "optimistic" scenario shows coronavirus peaking at around 93 new cases per day in late October.
The model was compiled using a number of studies from across the country. An earlier version of the model correctly predicted a huge spike in cases last winter.
Taking into account the lessons learned during the previous two waves, local hospitals have already begun to prepare for yet another surge in patients.
"We are planning for the worst, but obviously hoping for much more optimistic numbers in terms of potential increases," said Bakersfield Memorial Hospital President and CEO Ken Keller. "We believe that we will see a spike. We do not feel that the spike will be anywhere near as intense as it was earlier this winter, in the January/February timeframe, when all the hospitals across the county were significantly, significantly, overwhelmed. Therein lies the dilemma."
Hospitals across Kern have already begun to experience an uptick in COVID-19 patients. On Thursday, the state reported 61 people in Kern County were hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to 34 a week earlier.
Unlike the previous waves, vaccines are now widely available and hospitals report nearly all of the incoming patients are unvaccinated. Since late Jan. 21, 99.4 percent of all cases have occurred in people who have not received the vaccine, according to the Kern County Department of Public Health Services.
"The best way to stop another surge is for people to get vaccinated. That's what makes the difference," said Kern Medical CEO Russell Judd.
Earlier this week, the county's health department reported only 41.3 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated, far below the statewide rate of 61.8 percent. Vaccination rates have declined in Kern over the last few weeks, a trend health officials hope will reverse.
"It is safe. It is effective. It makes a difference in your life," Judd said of the vaccines. "The very slight chance that there is a complication for the vaccine is much less likely, and less severe, than a person getting COVID."
Coronavirus variants are also a cause for concern. The variants are more contagious than the original virus and will continue to mutate if allowed to spread.
"A lot of people have COVID burnout and it continues on. I think we'll get to a point where you just really hope people get vaccinated because that's shown to be what stops the disease progression," said Bakersfield Heart Hospital CEO Michelle Oxford.
She added that everyone in the hospital had been made aware of what is happening in the community.
"That's the number one thing that we've learned with the pandemic: to be prepared, to have the best case, worst case scenarios and to have plans for that," she said.
The Health Department also recommends unvaccinated individuals follow the state guidance of wearing masks while indoors.
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.