Nearly five months into the coronavirus shutdown and the number of new COVID-19 cases in Palo Alto is rising sharply after almost completely plateauing in May, according to Santa Clara County data.
In the five weeks between mid-May and late June, just nine new cases were reported — resulting in 86 cumulative cases as of June 23. In the six weeks since then, however, no fewer than eight residents per week, and in most weeks many more, have contracted the virus.
The city's COVID-19 cases totaled 174 as of Aug. 5 — including 20 new ones in the prior week alone. That's a rate of 260 cases per 100,000 residents, or 0.26% of the city's population.
While the county's COVID dashboard does not show the numbers of Palo Altans who have been hospitalized, countywide data reveals hospitalizations have been on the rise: Daily counts of COVID-19 patients in ICU and non-ICU beds were high in March and April, decreased to lows in late May and early June, and then began rising again. They now approach the March and April numbers.
It's unclear why case numbers in Palo Alto are increasing. Asked for an explanation, the spokesperson for the county's Emergency Operations Center had none.
Palo Alto's cases did start to rise starting in the third week of June, according to county data, a few weeks after the county relaxed its stay-at-home order as of June 5. Testing for COVID-19 also ramped up in June, although Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said at the time that testing alone did not account for the surge in numbers. She also pointed to hospitalizations as an indicator of the true incidence increase.
The rise in Palo Alto's cases doesn't appear tied to an outbreak in any congregate care facilities, such as skilled nursing homes. The California Department of Public Health monitors skilled nursing facilities for COVID-19 cases, and all in Palo Alto had either none or fewer than 11 among its residents. Webster House, Channing House, Palo Alto Sub-Acute and Rehabilitation Center, and [email protected] Alto each have fewer than 11 residents who've tested positive.
Cases among nursing home staff, who presumably aren't counted in Palo Alto's COVID-19 totals, are another story: As of Aug. 7, Palo Alto Sub-Acute in downtown Palo Alto reported having 14 cases among staff, the state database showed.
So how is the virus being spread? Countywide, nearly two-thirds of new cases are thought to be community-transmitted, according to the county Public Health Department's COVID-19 dashboard, meaning that the person didn't contract the virus from someone known to them who had COVID-19.
Cody pointed last week to two concerning trends countywide: an increase in cases among Latinos and a steady rise in cases among people ages 35 and younger. Among adults, the 20-to-39 age group comprises 38.4% of those who have tested positive for the virus, according to county data. Cases among Latinos have skyrocketed to 52.2%, while they make up 25.8% of the county's population.
Within Palo Alto, cases have not been evenly distributed, according to ZIP code data from the state's California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE) reporting system and the county.
As of Aug. 7, ZIP code 94301 in north Palo Alto has had 57 cases among 17,191 residents (an equivalent of 337 cases per 100,000 people). ZIP code 94306, which encompasses mid-Palo Alto, has had 62 cases among 27,549 residents (or a rate of 214 cases per 100,000 people).
Meanwhile, 94304, which includes west Palo Alto and a bit of north Palo Alto, has had 19 cases among its 3,982 residents (for a rate of 487 cases per 100,000).
The county and the state health departments do not include a specific case total for Palo Alto's portion of the 94303, which it shares with East Palo Alto. But there have been fewer than 11 cumulative cases, the county noted.
The higher case numbers in certain ZIP codes could be due in part to the long-term care facilities and apartment buildings in those areas, where the risks of the virus spreading can be greater.
The coronavirus case count in Palo Alto may actually be higher than the county is currently reporting. A recent and as-yet-unfixed glitch in the state's CalREDIE reporting system is likely underreporting the number of cases, and the state is working to remedy the problem, the county has noted.
Santa Clara County issued its stay-at-home order starting on March 17; it began lifting the order incrementally in early May. Since May 31, the county has followed state guidelines for reopening the economy. It relaxed its health order on June 5 only to end up on the state's "watch list" twice in July. It partially rolled back the reopening on July 15 due to rising numbers of COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.