As much of the state is on a path toward easing shelter-in-place restrictions, Alameda County is struggling with an increase in COVID-19 infections and resultant hospitalizations that make it difficult to get the county moving toward recovery.

“We are seeing an increase in reported COVID-19 cases in Alameda County,” said Neetu Balram, public information manager with the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD). “While our shelter-in-place measures and other interventions greatly slowed the epidemic, the increase highlights the difficulty in containing COVID-19.”

The county is reporting 3,470 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of the end of May. Additionally, 96 deaths have been attributed to the disease.

The cities of Oakland and Hayward account for just over half of the county’s COVID-19 infections. Locally, Pleasanton has reported 62 cases; Livermore, 54; and Dublin, 27. There have been no reported cases in Sunol. ACPHD does not provide information regarding the number of deaths by city.

Among the Bay Area counties, Alameda is now reporting the highest number of cases, recently surpassing Santa Clara County, which held that distinction from the start of the pandemic. There are 2,805 cases reported in Santa Clara County, with 142 associated fatalities as of May 31.

For the last two weeks, the rate at which new COVID-19 infections were reported increased. For the week ending May 16, the weekly growth rate was 16.9% across Alameda County. The rate increased to 18.8% the following week. For the week ending May 30, it jumped again, this time to 20.2%. Said another way, infections are increasing at an increasing rate, a worrisome trend 11 weeks into broad-based efforts to control the spread of the virus.

“Some of the increase in cases can be explained by increased testing and improved case detection,” Balram said. “Increased testing is showing us what we’ve always expected to find; that COVID-19 is prevalent in our communities. This is why it’s so important to act with caution and move slowly through any relaxation of the shelter-in-place order. The goal is to protect our most vulnerable community members and prevent our health care systems from becoming overwhelmed.”

As Alameda County works to reverse this trend, health officials are reinforcing the core preventative measures that have been the mantra since the start of the pandemic.

“With the recent relaxation of shelter-in-place restrictions on May 4 and May 18, our residents are likely interacting with each other more often and in more settings,” Balram said. “It’s important to remember that the virus is highly contagious and spreads easily. Now more than ever, it’s best to stay home if you can, maintain 6 feet of (social) distance, and cover your face when out in public.”

Balram noted in a May 29 ACPHD emergency press release that Alameda County currently has the highest increase in confirmed COVID-19 infections among Bay Area counties. Additionally, the county has seen a troubling and dramatic increase in hospitalizations – a critical measure of the virus’s impact on a community, and a key indicator for the loosening of shelter-in-place restrictions.

Until the final week of May, the average number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 for the month either fell slightly or grew in the low single-digit range. By example, for the week ended May 23, average hospitalizations in Alameda County grew 3.5%. Just one week later, the average number of hospitalized patients spiked by 19%. After seeing approximately 80 hospitalized patients per day for several weeks, the county suddenly reported a new peak of 105 hospitalizations on May 30, far outdistancing the prior peak of 93 recorded April 10.

“We are watching our COVID-19 hospitalizations closely because this indicator provides a clearer picture of the burden of severe illness in Alameda County and is less likely to be influenced by increases in testing,” Balram explained. “And we are also seeing an increase in hospitalizations in recent days.”

The county’s shelter-in-place order was originally issued with an expiration date of May 31. The expiration date was removed from the order when ACPHD issued an update May 18 – an indication that the county has a long way to go before activities considered moderate- or high-risk can again become part of everyday life.

A joint statement released Monday, June 1, by health officers from five Bay Area counties, including Alameda, read, “We are carefully tracking data related to the spread of COVID-19 in our region and in each of our own communities. We are encouraged by what we are seeing in some areas and concerned about what we are seeing in others. As we move forward together, we will each make choices about what to reopen and how quickly to do so. Those decisions will be based on the data related to the specific conditions in our communities, as well as our joint assessment of broader regional trends.”