Nevada County preps for possible COVID-19 spike
Judy Seabridge waited 10 days for her coronavirus test results before receiving a message saying she needed to be retested.
“Well, at 10 days I thought, ‘I’m not going to do that, I’ve been back 10 days, I feel fine,’” Seabridge said. “I just thought, ‘I’m going to assume that I’m negative at this point, I’m not going to retest.’”
Seabridge took her test the morning after returning from a trip to Connecticut, where she met with family from as far as Florida and Maryland.
Then, the day after she was told her test had to be retaken, she received another message, this time with negative results.
“It was kind of discouraging if I had been positive — of course I was staying completely away from people until I heard — but I kind of felt like a prisoner waiting to find out my sentence,” she said.
Seabridge is one of a growing chorus of residents claiming their test results were significantly delayed.
Deby Williams, who was tested after some of her family attended a multi-househould birthday party, said she, her daughter, and her husband each received messages to expect delays about four days after they were tested.
But according to Dr. Richard Johnson, the county’s interim public health officer, that may actually be a good sign.
“The information that we have says that for those tests that are positive, people are being identified quickly and essentially no news is good news,” Johnson said. “For negative tests people often aren’t notified until seven to 10 days out. It’s kind of frustrating for people who haven’t heard anything and they’re wondering if they’re positive or not but because the positive tests, those people are notified quickly, I don’t think that presents a risk at this point.”
According to county public health officials, testing has increased from about 500 per week at the beginning of June to 1,500 over the last week. Testing wait times increased from an average of three days to seven due to an increase in testing demand and a reported statewide shortage of testing materials.
“We are receiving other results back more quickly, so the lag in our receiving results is for only some of the tests on our residents,” County Public Health Director Jill Blake said. “The current lag in receiving lab results is a statewide issue due to lab capacity and supplies, which the state is working to rectify. We are also working with the (Logistics Health Incorporated) staff at our OptumServe site to let people who are coming in for testing know about the lag in results.”
The statewide shortage comes as cases in California have soared to record highs this week, a trend Johnson said he expects to soon be reflected locally in hospitalizations and potentially even deaths.
Within the last two weeks the state positivity rate increased from 4% to over 7%, with hospitalization and intensive care unit rates rising more than 40% and 30%, respectively.
Nevada County has averaged three COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last 14 days, along with an average of three suspected cases, according to state data. It averaged one intensive care unit hospitalization and one suspected COVID-19-related intensive care unit case over the same period.
“We’re very much concerned about the activity that went on over the holiday weekend, all the movement of people,” Johnson said. “Typically it takes a couple of weeks for that to manifest itself in positive cases and in hospitalizations and deaths if they occur, so it’s gong to be the end of this week or next week before we really see what the true impact of the weekend was. We expect within a couple of weeks that we probably will see more of an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.”
While some of the state and local increase in cases is due to a relative ramping up of the number of tests done, Johnson said the movement of particularly young people has also fueled spread.
According to the county’s coronavirus dashboard, people aged 18-49 account for 85 of the 163 total cases.
“Both are factors. People who are testing positive now are definitely younger than they were before and that points out that fact that it’s the younger people who are moving about and getting tested,” Johnson said. “But the concern would be as the younger people move about, become positive, will they end up giving it to the older folks they interact with either in the workplace or multi-generational housing.”
If the county does see a significant increase in cases, it could be forced to move back toward stricter policies like limiting restaurants to curbside or delivery service, and closing personal service businesses reopened as part of the expanded second stage.
“Obviously in doing so there’s a balance between maintaining an economy that is sustainable and paying attention to public safety and trying to walk that fine line so we can minimize the number of cases and the risk to the public,” Johnson said. “People’s behavior is probably more important than any policy that we put out. If people social distance and wear masks, that’s much more important than us issuing an edict or an order closing something.”
According to Johnson, there is not a specific measurement for what would constitute a significant increase triggering the dialing back outlined in the county’s attestation to the state. Instead, that will be determined based on the county’s ability to continue effectively contact tracing all new cases.
The county has added department staff and retired nurses from the community to supplement its contact tracing team and has a regional plan for patients should hospitals experience an influx of cases.
“Each of the hospitals has plans in place to expand their bed capability, and we also regionally have a plan to open an alternate care site at the Sleep Train Arena down outside of Sacramento, which is where patients would be moved who need care in a hospital that did not have room,” Johnson said.
This week, neighboring Placer County, with more than 1,000 cases, was put on the state’s monitoring list due to an increase in hospitalization and limited hospital capacity. Counties on the list for three consecutive days must reimpose restrictions for at least three weeks.
“It’s important for people to remember it’s their behavior that determines whether we’ll be needing to dial back at this point,” Johnson said. “Certainly we can do our best to monitor what’s going on and follow up with all the testing, but what happens in the future really depends on people’s individual and family behavior rather than any policy that government has.”
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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