Supervisors Discuss Rise in COVID-19 Cases and an Overflow Hospital at Sears
By edhat staff
Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors discussed the ongoing increase in North County COVID-19 cases and the decision to use the vacant Sears building as a backup hospital during their Tuesday meeting.
As of Tuesday evening, the county has 371 active cases with 76 hospitalizations including 22 in the intensive care unit (ICU). Within the county, there are 34% of all medical/surgical hospital beds, 38% of all ICU beds, and 80% of all ventilators available.
The Public Health Department (PHD) has planned for surge capacity within all local hospitals and has sought out additional options for field hospitals should a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations exceed the hospital system's capacity.
The former Sears department store, located at 3845 State Street, was selected as the best field hospital option for Santa Barbara's south county. Sears closed in early 2019 and the building, operated by Rippan Property, has been vacant.
Assistant County Executive Officer Barney Melekian confirmed additional sites were vetted, including UC Santa Barbara. He stated there were a number of reasons why the college campus didn't work and Sears has the best capacity to support 250 hospital beds with the ability to hold more if needed.
However, it could cost more than $1 million to convert the Sears building into a suitable hospital alternative as well as a $39,600/month lease for up to 18 months.
Melekian stated the alternative site will be set up in three transitionary phases: at end of July or end of August the county will pay to hold the facility in the event it's needed, then they will begin the 3 to 4-week process of preparing the building to receive patients, and the final phase will be the receipt of patients if the hospital system becomes overwhelmed.
For North County, San Luis Obispo has agreed to take on overflow patients to their facility at CalPoly if the need arises.
"This is a regional solution and it is an insurance policy and it is calibrated to fill the needs of both North County and South County," said Supervisor Gregg Hart.
During public comment, numerous community members expressed their frustration that not enough education has been done in the Santa Maria area, which holds more than half of the entire county's COVID-19 cases. Specifically, there was concern that agricultural workers were not being protected by their employers.
Commenters urged county officials to do more to protect these workers by revising agricultural employee dwelling policies, issue safety protocol plans, and enforce the rules.
PHD Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso confirmed 14% of the total 4,323 COVID-19 cases are agricultural workers, and it increases to 20% within the City of Santa Maria.
The supervisors agreed to extend the pandemic eviction moratorium through September 30, as it was planned to expire by the end of July. Additionally, County Supervisor Das Williams proposed a rental assistance program for those who have lost wages due to COVID-19.
"There will be a time that evictions begin again and we are facing the risk of a mass eviction and migration that hasn't been seen since the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake if we don't get folks some help. I am pleased that my motion passed unanimously and our staff is working on developing a program," said Williams in a statement.