As COVID-19 Numbers Continue to Rise, Officials Remain Focused on Education
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart during Friday's press conference
By edhat staff
The number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Santa Barbara County as officials remain focused on education as a method of enforcement.
During a press conference on Friday afternoon, local officials admit it's been a difficult week as an increase in cases has put a strain on hospital resources.
COVID-19 cases have risen 18% since the last press conference on July 2, active cases have decreased by 4%, COVID-19 positive patients admitted to local hospitals increased by 25% and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions increased by 15%.
The total bed occupancy of all five hospitals in the county, including ICU beds and non-COVID patients, is now 56% full.
"This is very concerning because hospitalized COVID patients often quickly require more intensive treatment with very little advanced warning," said Supervisor Gregg Hart.
Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (PHD) Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso confirmed the contact tracing reports that close gatherings appear to be the biggest issue for the spread of the virus. Father's day events, funerals, church services, family gatherings, bars, and July 4th activities were commonly cited during investigations.
The county has been on the state's monitoring list for 26 consecutive days
When the topic shifted to the enforcement of the Governor and Public Health Officer's orders, such as mandatory face coverings, officials touted education as the best solution opposed to citations.
Hart stated there was initially some confusion about wearing face coverings outdoors but local agencies and governments have been working together to educate people and businesses. The county will not enforce its way out of this problem but will encourage people to do the right thing, he said.
However, Hart did confirm a new strategy of issuing cease and desist letters to businesses who are deemed repeat offenders will be deployed soon. The majority of these problematic businesses are restaurants who have continued to operate indoors, he said.
Two Additional Deaths and 75 New Cases
The Public Health Department reported two additional deaths and 75 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. This brings the total case count to 3,931 with 31 total deaths.
The two deaths were both over 70 years of age and resided in the City of Santa Maria and are related to an outbreak at a skilled nursing facility.
Of the total cases, 345, or approximately 10%, are active in the community with 75 current hospitalizations including 23 in the ICU.
Are Hospitals Stable Right Now?
Dr. Do-Reynoso confirmed local hospitals and PHD are better equipped to handle a possible surge than four months ago. Currently, 75% of the county's ventilators are free and hospitals have more personal protective equipment (PPE).
There are a total of 720 hospital beds across the county's five hospitals and at 56% total capacity, hospitals may begin to reduce their number of elective surgeries to free up bed space, said Dr. Do-Reynoso.
On Friday evening, Cottage Health released a statement that their facilities will revert to visitor restrictions as the number of positive COVID-19 tests and the number of patients being hospitalized continue to rise.
"In early June, 1% of the COVID-19 tests performed by Cottage’s Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories tested positive. This week, 6% tested positive. Patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 have increased from four a month ago to 31 today, all cared for in isolation units separate from other patients," according to the statement.
Additionally, starting Monday, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital will reduce its number of scheduled elective procedures by half.
"This will assure that we can provide life-saving care for the predicted surge of COVID-positive cases while still safely caring for patients who require emergency and essential care for non-COVID conditions. We are prepared to meet these needs and it is important that you continue to seek medical care when needed," the statement read.
Testing Site Status
PHD is now asking that only people who have COVID-19 symptoms, had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive patient, is an essential worker, or lives/works in a congregate setting to schedule a COVID-19 test.
As the supply chain becomes strained, appointments become booked, and people don't show up for their appointments without notice, it prevents people who really need to get tested from getting the care they need, said Nick Clay, Director of Santa Barbara County Emergency Medical Services Agency.
PHD issued a press release earlier this week explaining the shift in messaging from encouraging everyone to get a test to this new restriction.
While testing results can be delayed, the state is working to solve this problem, said Clay.
What Can We Do Now?
Officials stressed the importance of washing your hands, not touching your face, wearing a face mask, and physically distancing from other people.
Supervisor Hart encouraged personal responsibility to protect yourself and neighbors while reasserting that "COVID-19 is not the seasonal flu, you don't want to get it just to get it over with."
Dr. Do-Reynoso urged everyone to not get complacent stating, "you must assume everyone you come in contact with is infectious."
When it comes to the City of Santa Maria, who holds over 40% of the county's total case count and 50% of the active case count, officials stated they are continuing with outreach and prevention strategies and have suggested monitoring and enforcement against businesses who are not complying with the rules.
For more information about COVID-19, please visit www.publichealthsbc.org or call the County Call Center at (833) 688 – 5551.