Tulare County sees a 129% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since June 1


TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – Tulare County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 129% since June 1, said Timothy Lutz, the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency Director during the county’s press conference Friday.

Hospitals in Tulare County are now close to reaching their capacities.

“Tulare County is in a serious situation,” said Amy Shuklian, Tulare County Board of Supervisor.

Gary Herbst, the CEO of Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia, said as of Friday morning, they were caring for 51 COVID-19 patients.

Of the 51, 18 are in critical care and seven are on ventilators, Herbst said.

Over the last week, he said they’ve had consistently between 55 to 60 COVID-19 patients, three times the amount they were experiencing in May.

This is on top of the already hundreds of non-COVID-19 patients they care for, he said.

“This morning, our occupancy rate across those 400 beds is 90%. We only have 14 beds that are open that take care of respiratory patients, COVID patients across three dedicated areas of the hospital,” Herbst said.

Of the 51 COVID-19 patients, he said about half are younger than 60.

“Definitely dips into the 50s, the 40s and even the 30s,” he said.

Herbst said more than 150 of his employees have contracted the virus and many of the nurses are now having to take care of many more patients than they normally would.

“They are exhausted,” he said. “That causes us considerable concern that if this breakout of this pandemic at the level that we’re seeing right now could really overwhelm our hospital, overwhelm our physical capacity and overwhelm our workforce.”

In a little under three weeks, Tulare County’s case rate per 100,000 people increased to 329.3, Lutz said. On June 13, it was at 160.2 cases per 100,000 people. That’s about a 106% increase.

“This is an alarming trend that if allowed to continue may result in additional businesses and entertainment sectors needing to be closed as well as impacting the ability of our schools to return their students to the classrooms,” Lutz said.

In the last two weeks, the county has seen 1,581 new COVID-19 cases, he said.

Lutz said there are no significant outbreak locations or clusters that account for the rise in cases. They have not seen any significant cluster of cases in the county that are tied to protests, he said.

However, he said contact tracing is indicating that the increase in gatherings that started in late May is a significant contributor to the increase in cases.

He said the largest percentage of recent growth in cases in the county has been in those 40 and younger with the highest growth rate in those that are 17 and younger.

“No group is immune to this illness,” Lutz said.

Donna Hefner, the CEO of Sierra View Medical Center, said they’re experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients and at one point this week were four patients away from being full.

“We created a conference room that has eight gurneys in it to take care of non-COVID patients,” Hefner said.

The rise in hospitalizations in the county has forced hospitals to implement their surge protocols and the county to activate Porterville’s alternate care site.

Lutz said the site was staffed Thursday and will start with an initial 50 beds but has the ability to ramp up to 150 beds. The site is meant to care for non-COVID-19 patients.

Tulare County was one of 19 that was directed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to use the dimmer switch and have their restaurants, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums, card rooms and movie theaters shut down their indoor operations.

“This action is necessary given the sharp increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 across Tulare County. It is necessary to save lives,” Lutz said.

Shuklian warned that another stay-at-home order is possible.

She along with others at the press conference urged people to wear their face coverings and avoid gatherings in order to slow the spread of the virus.

“We’re also handing out free masks to anyone in the community who wants one,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said.

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