Santa Clara County health officer: ‘COVID-19 is something we’re going to be managing for a very long time’

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Santa Clara County health officer: ‘COVID-19 is something we’re going to be managing for a very long time’

The number of new coronavirus cases recorded on a daily basis has begun to decline in Santa Clara County, but efforts to manage the public health crisis will continue for a long time.

After roughly 50 to 70 new cases were reported in Santa Clara County each day during the first half of April, numbers have decreased over the last week as the Public Health Department added just 27 on Tuesday, bringing the countywide total to 1,946 since the pandemic began.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, told the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that analyzing case data, increasing testing and preparing for additional surges will consume her efforts in the coming months.

“This is going to be slow and steady,” Cody said during a videoconference. “COVID-19 is something we’re going to be managing for a very long time, months and likely years. We anticipate this won’t be the only surge, we’ll have other surges that will likely come if we let up too much so we have to be extra careful to develop the information systems to enable us to monitor what we’re doing.”

Eighty-eight people have died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus in the Bay Area’s most populous county after five new deaths were recorded Tuesday.

Cody said the goals of the joint shelter-in-place order issued by six Bay Area counties March 16 were to prevent infections, hospitalizations and deaths and create additional time for the healthcare delivery system to prepare for a surge in COVID-19-positive patients.

She said Tuesday the county is “in reasonably good shape,” but warned that the number of new coronavirus cases being tracked daily has only decreased to a point that matches the number of cases tracked when the shelter-at-home order was originally implemented.

“I just want to caution everyone that the level of community transmission or the amount the virus is circulating in our community, it’s not less than it was when we put the order into place,” Cody said.

Cody noted that because testing capacity has only begun to expand, Santa Clara County has likely tracked just “a fraction” of the total cases in the region. With new cases beginning to slow, Cody said the Public Health Department can start to focus its efforts on communities within the county that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus.

County executive Jeff Smith said Tuesday data compiled by the county shows there’s a higher death rate among males, a higher death rate among people 50 years of age or older and an especially high death rate among those who are between 70 and 80 years old.

Smith added that certain ethnic groups are also bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

“We’ve noticed a large amount of deaths in the Latinx population, 33% of our deaths are there,” Smith said. “We’ve also noticed a large population of deaths in the Asian population, 31% there.”

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Latinx/Hispanics account for 25% of the population in Santa Clara County while Asians account for 38% of the population.

Cody and Dr. Jennifer Tong, who is leading the healthcare surge branch within the county’s Emergency Operations Center, also spoke at length about how COVID-19 has affected long-term care facilities including skilled nursing facilities.

“During the first week of April, we saw a significant increase in the number of COVID-positive cases in our skilled nursing facilities, predominantly among three skilled nursing facilities,” Tong said.

According to data published by the California Department of Public Health, the facilities within Santa Clara County with the largest outbreaks are Valley House Rehabilitation Center, Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Canyon Springs Post-Acute.

Thirty-one of the 88 COVID-19 deaths in Santa Clara County were residents or staff members at long-term care facilities, including 29 who lived or worked at skilled nursing facilities. On Tuesday, 45 of the 175 people hospitalized in Santa Clara County with the novel coronavirus were residents or staff members at skilled nursing facilities.

Outside of expediting mass testing for residents and staff members at facilities where there have been coronavirus outbreaks, Tong said the county has begun augmenting staffing at these facilities with county employees working as disaster service workers as well as “agency traveling staff” who came to the county via a request to the state of California.

Long-term care facilities represent just one of the congregate settings the Public Health Department where physical distancing is more difficult and the county’s resources will be “mobilized.”

“Jails, homeless shelters and communities where there’s a higher degree of crowding in housing are being monitored,” Cody added.

Cody said providing more testing in these communities is critical, but specified that it’s important people with symptoms of the coronavirus are given PCR tests that identify COVID-19.

Serology tests that look for antibodies or the body signal that a person has had the coronavirus are “very exciting, but it’s a little bit too early to know how we’ll be using them.”

“We’re not quite ready to use (serology tests) for I, Sara Cody, got tested, I had the antibodies, therefore I’m fine and I’m not at risk for infection for a long, long time and I’m good to go,” Cody said. “We’re not at that place yet.”

Smith told the Board of Supervisors that Santa Clara County is “running the best response to the COVID crisis in the Bay Area, if not the nation,” before Cody added there is plenty of work left to accomplish.

“Because we flattened the curve, it doesn’t mean that we are done,” Cody said. “Because we are far, far, far from done.”

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