COVID-19 Cases Increase but Health Officer Confident to Reopen
By edhat staff
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (PHD) announced 61 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths but is confident the county should continue to reopen.
During a press conference on Friday afternoon, Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg confirmed the majority of the new cases are mostly due to a backlog of cases that were not previously reported and the county is in good shape to reopen.
While Friday's case number is the highest ever recorded in the county, Dr. Henning stated 38 positive test results were recently added due to a glitch from a testing lab that delayed the reporting for approximately ten days. The positive number is more truly 23 cases, he said.
There were 61 new cases announced making a total of 1,971 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County. Of the total, 985 cases are at the Federal Prison in Lompoc, 986 are community cases, and 1664 have fully recovered.
There were also two deaths announced, both were over 70 years of age with underlying health conditions residing in the City of Santa Maria. This marks 18 total COVID-19 related deaths within the county.
“We extend our condolences to the families and friends of both of these individuals. Please, as we continue to open more and more of our economy wear your face coverings, wash your hands often and avoid gatherings.” said Dr. Ansorg.
From the 218 active cases in the county, 167 are quarantined at home, 51 are recovering in hospitals with 12 in intensive care units (ICU), and 57 are pending information.
The Case of Santa Maria
From the 986 community cases, 645 belong to the Santa Maria area making up 65% of the county's community cases. North County as a whole contains 78% of the COVID-19 cases within the entire county.
In previous press conferences, PHD officials have stated the increase of cases in the Santa Maria area is concerning but they have yet to pinpoint a specific reason as the cases are evenly spread among demographics.
PHD Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso will brief the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about demographics of COVID-19 cases within the county, which will include in-depth information on the Santa Maria cases.
Are We Safe to Reopen?
Additional sectors of business including hotels, bars, gyms, and museums are allowed to reopen with modifications. More than 2,456 local businesses have self-certified through the county's website to become eligible for reopening.
Dr. Ansorg stated he's confident to continue reopening due to a decrease in the number of ICU patients, which indicates the severity of the illness in the general population. In April there was an average of 17 to 18 patients in the ICU whereas now it's averaging around 10 or 11, he said.
Due to increased testing capabilities, the number of total positive COVID-19 cases will continue to increase, but those numbers have to be interpreted with background information, said Dr. Ansorg.
Additionally, the nasal swab testing is highly sensitive and a positive result does not mean the carrier is necessarily ill or contagious, he said. The testing process has shifted over the past month from just focuses on patients with severe symptoms to allowing anyone to get a test.
"We do treat all positive [cases] as if they were contagious out of an abundance of caution because the swab cannot tell infectious from no longer infectious," said Dr. Ansorg.
He gave a rough estimate that approximately half of those who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic and appear to be healthy.
Cases Increase at Skilled Nursing Facilities
PHD confirmed they are continuing to support the 14 skilled nursing facilities within the county.
Country Oaks in Santa Maria reported an outbreak on May 31 and they currently have 12 positive staff members and 24 positive residents with two that require hospitalization. Resources from the state are currently assisting the facility.
Additionally, there has been one positive case at Valle Verde and one positive case at Casa Dorinda.
The positive case at Casa Dorinda was a private duty nurse the family had asked to visit a patient in the Medical Center. The nurse did not have any symptoms and was asked to quarantine following the diagnosis. The nurse's patient has tested negative as well as all other residents at the facility, according to a member of the Casa Dorinda Medical Committee.
Baseline testing for all residents and staff members at each skilled nursing facility is expected to be complete at the end of June. Between five and six facilities have already finished.
Following the baseline testing, the facility is responsible for future surveillance testing.
Is a Second Wave Coming?
Dr. Ansorg warned the virus is still spreading however fewer people are experiencing severe illness as daily case reports suggest.
It's unclear if local protests will contribute to an increase in numbers or if it's due to reopening business sectors. However, if PHD needs to reengage stricter measures, it will not be done overnight, said Dr. Do-Reynoso.
Dr. Ansorg stated he is confident the continued phased opening is a responsible move providing the community adjusts to the new normal and continues to physically distance, perform proper hygiene, and wear a face mask.