ALCO health officer: Surge could come in August, loosening restrictions may increase spread

Alameda County Interim Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan addressing the Board of Supervisors last April.

A surge in new covid-19 cases in Alameda County could peak sometime in August, while models suggest relaxing the county’s shelter in place orders will likely result in increased spread of the infection.

“I think we need to manage our overall expectations. The pandemic has really evolved and our understanding of where we are and where we are going continues to evolve,” said Dr. Erica Pan, Alameda County interim public health officer. “I see it as balancing the need to reopen our economy and resources and the viability of our community and the potential harms of the disease itself.”

Pan reiterated a belief given previously to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that a peak in covid-19 cases in the county could come in August. Modeling on the virus in the county can vary from day-to-day, she added, but relaxing restriction will likely bring additional variability to the county’s projections. “As we loosen we’re going to see more cases and that’s what we need to prepare for,” Pan said this week.

Alameda County has avoided the types of surges that have overrun hospital emergency rooms in other areas of the state and country. As of Wednesday, Alameda County has reported over 2,100 cases of covid-19, and 76 deaths.

Just six percent of Alameda County’s total hospital beds are filled with patients being treated for covid-19 or suspected to have the infection, Pan said. And 15 percent of all Intensive Care Unit beds are being used for covid-19 patients and those believed to have the infection. A rate around 50 percent would indicate great potential stress on the county’s hospitals, Pan said.

But Pan cautioned during an Alameda County Board of Supervisors Health Committee this week that the situation is still fluid and its health indicators show the county is not quite ready to allow some businesses to reopen for curbside operations, like some other counties in the state began doing, starting on May 8.

Alameda County health officials allowed construction and some outdoor businesses, such as gardening and landscaping, to resume on May 4.

Because the incubation period of the virus can be up to two weeks before showing symptoms, the county needs more time to reevaluate its recent change in its shelter in place orders. “It takes 1-2 weeks to see any shift in indicators any time you loosen,” Pan said. “We want to wait until we’re stable until we move into Stage 2.” Pan added, she is optimistic the county can enter Stage 2 soon.

Meanwhile, testing for the virus continues to be lacking in Alameda County, Supervisor Wilma Chan said,  as opposed to places like Contra Costa County, where testing is universal. “When I look at other places they seem to be going faster in terms of doing more testing,” Chan told Pan, who did not directly answer the question.

However, Pan said greater surveillance of how the virus travels around the county is going to be needed going forward. “This is going to be with us for years, and certainly of high impact in the next couple of years, so we really need to figure out how we can have ongoing surveillance that is sustainable,” Pan said.

The county health department is aiming to conduct up to 3,100 tests a day, but is not close to achieving its goal. But when it comes to tracking covid-19 patients and who they may have potentially infected, Pan said the county has successfully conducted contact tracing on 90 percent of its cases.

Chan, though, pressed on with the line of inquiry on the need for more testing to include the state’s response. “I don’t know what the problem is, but it seems like our testing is slow,” Chan said. This time, Pan agreed with the statement before cutting herself off. “Yeah, I would agree. I think we’re…yeah.”