Most California counties seeing a surge in coronavirus. Health officials struggle to keep up

Most California counties seeing a surge in coronavirus. Health officials struggle to keep up


The number of COVID-19 cases is up nationally and in California in the last two weeks. It's been called a surge, a spike or an uptick.

But that increase has caused some confusion: Is it due to the fact that more people are getting tested, as Vice President Mike Pence said last week? Or is the virus really spreading again in the weeks since counties have begun reopening their economies?

It's both.

State officials say they have registered 3.5 million tests as of this week, now hitting more than 60,000 a day, a large increase from daily numbers in March, April and May.

However, a Sacramento Bee analysis of data in California counties shows that the positive test result rate is going up as well in much of the state over the past few weeks, which means the virus is spreading to more people.

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The Bee looked at what percentage of Californians tested positive on June 10 and what percentage tested positive on Monday, June 22.

The positive rate went up in 38 of the state's 58 counties, including Sacramento, Placer, Fresno, San Joaquin and Yolo.

Notably, the rate went slightly down, though, in Los Angeles, which has been among the hardest hit counties. It also dropped in San Francisco, one of the counties that has put stronger emphasis on social distancing and keeping more businesses closed.

"This is far from over," state Public Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell said in an email to The Bee Tuesday.

"Increased testing will continue to detect more cases, but this only serves as evidence that COVID-19 is in our communities. Continued increases ... are expected and likewise, hospitalizations are starting to increase. The safest place for all of us is at home, and when we go out for essential needs or services, we must wear face coverings and keep physical distance from others because that's what helps us protect one another."

Health officials say testing for the virus plays a critical role now in minimizing the spread. It enables county health workers to contact people who have tested positive to ask who they have associated with and in turn attempt to contact those people to ask them to get tested and to quarantine themselves if necessary.

The rise in cases, however, has put county contact tracers under pressure as they deal with higher coronavirus caseloads. Sacramento County is attempting to train more tracers to help with a growing workload.

State health officials say they want counties to keep their positive rate under 8 percent. Counties with rates higher than that are at risk of being told to start closing down their economies. The number of counties on that list has jumped in the last two weeks from three earlier in the month to seven as of this week.

The seven are: Imperial, Glenn, Tulare, Stanislaus, Merced, Riverside and San Joaquin.

Sacramento's rate is in the middle of the pack, number 27 among California counties, at 2.34 positive results per 100 tests. In real terms, that means as of Tuesday, roughly five out of every 200 county residents who were tested were actively infected with the virus.

Overall in California, the positive test rate now stands at 4.8 percent, slightly higher overall than two weeks earlier.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that roughly five out of every 200 county residents who were tested were actively infected with the virus. An earlier version stated that roughly five out of 200 county residents were actively infected, without noting that ratio applied only to those who chose to test.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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