The outbreak traced back to the Eureka the Pentecostal Church congregation is driving a surge in local infections and hospitalizations at the same time other areas in the state are watching daily cases and test-positivity rates decline.
The situation, county Health Office Ian Hoffman said during a Wednesday news conference, “really emphasizes we definitely are not out of the woods yet with COVID.”
To date, he said, more than 40 COVID-19 cases are linked directly to the church and dozens of others have been secondarily infected by people who attended services and then interacted with them, whether at work or a social event or because they are related.
At least 10 people connected to the outbreak have been hospitalized and another 10 have been treated at emergency rooms.
“We have also identified that the UK variant is in our county, which is something we have suspected, for a while, but now have confirmation of that and we are highly suspicious that this event that we’re seeing currently is related to a likely variant of concern spreading in our community given the high hospitalization rates, more severe illness and how rapidly this is spreading,” Hoffman said, noting later that the single UK variant case identified to date is not related to the church spike.
When asked, he also said that Public Health is working with the California Department of Public Health investigators to look into whether the outbreak could be linked to other gatherings held in the state.
While Hoffman did not specify what those might be, Lost Coast Outpost reported earlier that some members of the congregation appear to have attended a youth convention that occurred April 9 and 10 in Stockton, which had a 1,200 person attendance limit and an apparent lax enforcement of COVID-19 protocols listed on an event website.
“We do know the local spread does appear to be associate with church services throughout the first weeks of April here locally,” Hoffman said.
The cases began spiking in mid-April, when 71 cases were reported, a rate more than double the previous week, followed by even worse numbers last week, when 130 new cases were confirmed. So far this week, the number stands at 118 as well as 17 new hospitalizations, including six since yesterday's county COVID-19 report.
In order to curtail the spread of offshoot cases, Hoffman said people need to continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols: to use masks, to socially distance and to follow guidelines regarding gatherings while those who have been exposed need to follow the guidance given to them regarding quarantining.
“If people can follow rules and regulations set forth, I think it can be contained,” Hoffman said.