‘Keep doing what you’re doing’

RRH says local COVID transmission remains manageable

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘Keep doing what you’re doing’A Monday article in the L.A. Times declared Kern County “one of the worst U.S. coronavirus hot spots in the country” — citing political battles, confusion and enforcement among the factors of a high transmission rate.

California recently eclipsed all other states in the nation for number of cases, with 647,391 out of some 5.7 million positives in the U.S. At press time, Kern was sixth out of 58 counties for number of positive cases (27,378). However, we were only ninth for number of COVID-related deaths (229).

Based on the numbers reported out of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, the rate of infection has been much lower than that of West Kern.

“We know we have a very low rate of community-acquired COVID,” said RRH CEO Jim Suver. “There have been times where we’ve witnessed spikes, but those have generally been traced to people attending large gatherings, or from those who have gone out of town and brought it back with them.

“We also know that we have had a great deal of success slowing down the transmission in our community by pushing masks, social distancing and other precautions.”

But there are other variables that leave officials reluctant to gage the prevalence of COVID. Last month, because of the significant lag processing of laboratory results across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom changed guidelines for tests so that only symptomatic and other vulnerable populations would be tested.

RRH, in accordance with the directive, closed its free drive-through clinic. The number of positive tests — currently at 118 — has ticked up more slowly than the numbers being reported out of West Kern, but Suver pointed out that does not address the number of asymptomatic carriers who could unknowingly spread contagion.

“We also do not know what the effects will be of fighting COVID and flu season at the same time — which is going to happen within the next couple of months,” he said.

“For anyone looking at the L.A. Times story, my conclusion is that we are in a separate epidemiological zone from Bakersfield, and I am not worried that we are at the same level of risk here.”

West Kern communities have experienced major outbreaks in two nursing homes, some of the food-growing and -processing sites, and within the prison population.

So far our local skilled nursing facility continues to yield negative results among residents and staff. And the IWV has neither prisons nor agricultural industries with high concentration of employees to deal with.

“But we can still look at the way other communities have handled coronavirus concerns and learn from them,” said Suver.

“We are encouraging folks to take personal responsibility — especially those who are more susceptible to COVID — to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, good hygiene and self-isolation during illness.”

The vulnerable population includes elderly residents, as well as those with heart disease, diabetes, cardiopulmonary issues or autoimmune deficiencies.

“I do have some good news to share about the hospital,” he said.

“We have received a significant shipment of personal protective equipment from the state, via the county, which alleviates some of the concerns we had about dealing with shortages in the event of a local outbreak.”

While many of the hospitals in Kern County are facing surges in their capacity, RRH continues to be able to meet the space and staffing needs of caring for those with COVID. Since the onset of the pandemic, RRH has admitted 16 patients for COVID. Three of those have died.

“The bottom line is to keep doing what you are doing,” said Suver.

“The hospital and the community are in pretty good shape to deal with this. But we need to watch for those risk factors that compromise health and safety — and that includes large gatherings and out-of-town travel.”

In the near future, RRH also hopes to procure testing capabilities that will increase capacity and more rapid turnaround.

“Some things we are monitoring, coming up on the horizon, are how we are going to manage testing for the contractors who will be coming into town to rebuild the base,” said Suver.

“I have had several contractors reach out to me to see how well the hospital is prepared to handle it. Based on that level of communication and cooperation, I feel confident that we can find a way to protect those incoming employees as well as our residents.”

Pictured: Masks have become the norm in public spaces. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-08-21