Contra Costa County sees hospital surge as COVID-19 cases spike

New cases of COVID-19 in Contra Costa County have increased from 40 a day to nearly 70, according to public health officials.

Contra Costa Health Services announced Friday it is reevaluating its reopening timeline as cases rise and more hospital beds are filled.

California recently identified 15 counties now on a “watch list” for spikes in positive cases. Nearly a dozen, including Contra Costa have seen hospitalizations surge.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the county and our numbers have looked similar,” John Muir Health Medical Director Dr. Nick Mickas said. “We’ve been preparing.”

Countywide, there has been a 42% increase in coronavirus patients over the past week. In recent days, county data shows roughly 40 beds are taken.

Tents stand ready outside a majority of hospitals for overflow or intake. The challenge, doctors say, is predicting the unknown and being able to balance COVID-19 patients with the needs of those in the emergency room for other reasons.

At John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek it has been all hands on deck and similar to the surge preparations in March. Dr. Mickas explained more beds and rooms are ready, staff’s undergo routine temperature screenings and there are efforts to reduce hospital foot traffic.

“We know as the numbers go up in the community, it’s going to take some time for those to manifest as actual hospital patients,” Mickas said. “We’ve been planning a couple days to a week ahead.”

Data and models released to Californians this week from the state show the places of concern. Gov. Gavin Newsom explained the county monitoring is a way to understand where outbreaks are occurring and which hospitals will see or are seeing a sudden jump.

“It’s decisions not conditions that determine our fate and future,” Newsom said at a press conference Thursday. “In the state of California – we are proof of that.”

Decisions have already been made in San Francisco and Marin counties where reopening has been paused in hopes of slowing the spread.

Over the last few days, state data shows Santa Clara County had a 23% increase in hospitalizations and in San Joaquin County there has been a 43% spike. In total, nearly a dozen counties total have seen a sudden rise in hospital bed usage.

Of course, the big question has been why or what is causing it? It has led to some anxiety among people who live, work or volunteer in Contra Costa neighborhoods.

“It’s definitely concerning to me,” school nurse Alexandra Cardenas said. “Even if I don’t feel sick, it’s important to continue those [coronavirus] protocols.”

Those protocols include wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing. Doctors say just doing those things will prevent more patients from filling the hospitals. That means adapting behaviors and educating residents on the current situation and projections.

“I don’t think we need to go back to where we were by any stretch but I think there is a middle ground that we’re going to have to find,” Mickas said.

Contra Costa County health officials are seeing a shift with more young people testing positive. They urge all residents to get tested for COVID-19 now.

An official announcement on the county’s reopening timeline is set for Monday.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU