As many predicted, several North State counties have seen a significant rise in the number of COVID-19 cases following moves to reopen certain businesses, even with health-minded guidelines.
Positive cases in 14 Northern California counties have doubled after staggered reopenings — going from 174 cases to 403 as of June 9. Some counties have seen sharper upticks than others since reopening around mid May.
Butte County went from 18 cases before the start of reopening to 71 cases now. Tehama County went from one to 11. Del Norte County went from four to 47.
In Shasta County, the rise has been less dramatic, going from 32 to 47.
Brad Pollock, who chairs the UC Davis School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, said the increase is not cause for alarm.
Yes, having more people interacting in public is likely to help the virus spread, but increased availability of testing also plays a sizable role in the growth in cases, he explained.
How case numbers rose in other counties in far Northern California:
- Humboldt County: 72 to 105
- Mendocino County: 15 to 36
- Lake County: 12 to 30
- Glenn County: 7 to 21
- Siskiyou County: 5 to 14
- Lassen County: 0 to 8
- Colusa County: 3 to 7
- Trinity County: 1 to 2
- Plumas County remained at 4
- Modoc County remained at 0
Pollock said rather than case numbers as a whole, there are better metrics to determine if a potentially threatening coronavirus surge is taking place, such as the number of deaths and proportion of people hospitalized.
T-38 planes flew over Shasta Regional Medical Center and other NorCal hospitals to thank nurses and doctors during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Butte County was the first in the region to move ahead with reopening with the state’s blessing on May 9. Lake County was the last of the 14 counties reviewed, moving ahead on May 21.
Professor Troy Cline, who teaches virology at Chico State, said an increase in cases is to be expected as people intermingle more. Like Pollock, he said there’s evidence the uptick is due to more testing.
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Cline said it’s always concerning to have a novel and potentially lethal virus spreading, but that the rise in cases is “not a reason for additional concern” unless its coupled with a higher rate of positive tests.
Cline gave North State residents three takeaways from the increase in cases since reopening:
- The virus continues to circulate in our community
- We should continue to be vigilant and take precaution to protect ourselves by washing our hands frequently and wearing a mask if you are going to be out in a crowd of people.
- The virus does not appear to be spreading at a higher rate than it was prior to the reopening of our communities
In many counties, the increase in cases corresponds with the increase in testing. Lassen County, for example, had no cases when it began allowing certain businesses to open on May 12. Since then, the county’s rate of testing has gone from about five tests per 1,000 residents to about 40 per 1,000 residents.
In other cases, it’s been less correlated with testing increases. Del Norte saw about a 100% increase in testing from its May 15 reopening to May 31. In that time, its case totals jumped by over 1,000%, from 4 to 45.
Kerri Schuette, a spokeswoman for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, said officials expected case numbers to increase as businesses reopened in Northern California.
Rise of cases not as noticeable in Shasta County
In Shasta County, the uptick hasn’t been as noticeable as in other jurisdictions. But numbers in other counties can have an effect on Shasta County’s response, Schuette said, since in some cases, out-of-area residents are relying on Redding hospitals.
“So it’s important for our whole region to keep case numbers low because Siskiyou and Trinity and Tehama could most certainly impact our hospital systems as well,” Schuette said.
Some residents have wondered weather warm weather might slow COVID-19 transmission, and experts have warned against assuming that. Cline noted the 2009 H1N1 pandemic spread “quite successfully” during the summer months.
“It is true that changes in humidity and temperature will affect the efficiency of respiratory droplet-mediated transmission of a virus, (but) I think the effect is relatively negligible when you’re dealing with a completely novel pathogen for which there is no pre-existing immunity in the population,” Cline said.
A store employee opens the screen gate on reopening day at Mt. Shasta Mall on Monday morning, May 18, 2020, about two months since it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Hung T. Vu/Special to the Record Searchlight)
Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.
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