Q&A: Shasta County’s Rising COVID-19 Cases, The Risk Of Gatherings, And A New Alert System

Jun 24, 2020

Over the last three weeks, the number of people falling ill with the coronavirus in Shasta County has more than doubled. After recording 34 cases over the last two weeks, at last count Wednesday, the figure stood at 88. (See current numbers here.)

For more on how the virus is spreading, NSPR’s Marc Albert spoke with Kerri Schuette, spokeswoman for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency. He started their conversation by asking in light of the rise in new cases, how concerned should people be.

Here are highlights from their conversation. You can also listen at the top of the page.

Interview Highlights

On the recent rise in cases 

We knew that once things started reopening here in Shasta County that the numbers would tick up. You know, we've had quite a number of cases in the past week or so. Many of those were connected with a family gathering. And so one of the messages that we're really trying to get out to folks is that — I think everybody knows that mass gatherings are prohibited — something that everybody really seems to understand very clearly. These smaller types of gatherings with people from different households are also problematic, as was the case with this last recent batch of cases. 

On the risks of complacency and family gatherings

We've been in California in a situation where people have been asked to stay home for a lot of months. Now the weather's really nice, people are starting to get complacent about the situation. You know, how, problematic could it be to just go to a barbecue at your next door neighbor's house? Well, we're finding that unfortunately, if one of the people there is infected with COVID-19, and particularly if they're symptomatic — in this situation, people did have symptoms when they went to this family gathering and ended up with many, many more cases as a result, unfortunately. And of course, that person in no way intended to make anybody sick. They were just having a small gathering. And that's what ended up happening. Unfortunately, that's how this disease is.

On how people in Shasta County are contracting the virus

There are a variety of ways in which the patients have contracted the virus over the past couple of weeks. As I mentioned, there was a family gathering that resulted in quite a number of cases. There have been people who have visited family members from outside of the area. They've come to Shasta County and went home to discover that they had symptoms and the people here in Shasta County that they visited also ended up having symptoms. We've got people that have traveled to other places and come back and tested positive. Most of our cases recently have been people with symptoms, but we've had a few who have had pre-op tests. Before you have surgery, it's now required in most cases to have a COVID test and a few have been discovered that way. Some people have no idea where they got the virus. It's really a mixed bag, which is why it's important for everyone to follow the state order that now requires masks in public spaces, to practice social distancing at all times and definitely to stay home when you are sick.

On the county’s new COVID alert level system

At our website at ShastaReady.org, there's a link called data and statistics. We recently uploaded an alert level system that measures the disease in three separate ways. We measure the disease status, which is how much COVID-19 is occurring in our community, the health care system, which measures the trends in hospitalized COVID-19 patients — that would include things like number of available ICU beds, number of people who have needed to be hospitalized, and then disease control, which measures the effectiveness of the community efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Right now we are at an overall alert level three out of four, because of the disease status. And the the indicator that's putting us into that level three is the number of positive cases in the past 14 days. We're at a level two with disease control and that is because of the positivity rate. The positivity rate, if it's over 2%, then that puts us into a level two low alert. So we moved up into a level two recently.

On how people should adapt their behavior based on the alert level

Right now, what our alert level three is indicating is that people should limit their everyday activities to increase safety. While, back when we were all green, we were encouraging people to just take those everyday precautions. That's what the alert level one indicator says. Alert level two is to increase efforts to limit personal exposure. And now we're up at alert level three, which is to limit everyday activities to increase safety. So we're actually asking people to really take that extra precaution. We're not closing businesses, of course, nothing of that nature. We're just really encouraging people to pay close attention to their surroundings, what's going on around us right now and right now, we've got quite a number of cases. 

On words for those whose resolve may be faltering

There is probably not a person on this planet who is not tired of the news every day being filled with talk about COVID and now that there's the mask guidance here in California and lots of things, people are tired of it and and we get that. We live here too. We're also tired of it. Unfortunately, the virus is still here. We still don't have a vaccine. There's still no cure for it. So when the governor lifted the lockdown, something has to replace that lockdown to continue to protect our community. In exchange for giving up that lockdown and having us be able to move about the county much more freely than we were able to two months ago, the trade off is we need to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus. And to maintain that social distancing. We can't just get rid of the lockdown and call it good because things are not back to normal. The virus is still here. So we exchanged that lockdown for this mask guidance, which is a very easy way for all of us to protect ourselves, to protect each other, to protect our vulnerable communities, and really to protect our local businesses. When they were closed down, we were very adamant that we wanted them to be back. We wanted to be able to go to restaurants. We wanted to be able to do all these things. And now we can, but we have to do our part now to help keep them open and safe.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.