The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced two additional COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.
One individual was between 50 to 69 years old and resided in Santa Maria, while the other was over 70 and from the North County unincorporated area. Neither had underlying health conditions and their deaths were not associated with an outbreak at a congregate living facility, according to officials.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said he “detests” using the term “underlying health conditions” when describing someone’s health status, and said there are internal discussions underway to inform the public moving forward.
Dr. Ansorg explained that the county continues to see an “unprecedented surge” of COVID-19 cases, with a case rate of 32.9 per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of 8.2%.
“To put these numbers in perspective, we now have 10 times as many currently infectious people in the county compared to early November,” he said. “The major surge in cases and hospitalizations is a direct consequence of people moving around, mixing and mingling, and unknowingly spreading the virus in an accelerated fashion due to the high rate of infective people in our area. Fortunately, our local ICU capacity is well above 30%, as opposed to the rest of the state where it is dismally low.”
Dr. Ansorg said there has been concern with mutated COVID strains in England and South Africa. At this point, scientists – as well as the vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna – are evaluating this mutation for its potential to evade the new vaccines. Dr. Ansorg noted the new vaccines “should work” in cases of mutated strains.
The health department reported 264 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 15,198. Of the total cases, 13,803 residents have recovered and 1,245 cases remain infectious. A total of 150 residents have died due to COVID-19.
Some 103 residents are receiving care at local hospitals, with 22 people in the Intensive Care Unit.
Santa Barbara County’s ICU availability was at 40.5% on Tuesday, while the Southern California region’s availability was 0%.
The city of Santa Maria reported 81 new cases and now has 5,751 total, including 374 that remain active. Santa Barbara reported 56 new cases on Tuesday and the city’s total number of cases was at 2,298, including 245 that are still infectious.
Orcutt reported 27 new cases and now has 741 total cases, 82 of which are active. The city of Lompoc reported 25 new cases (1,636 total, 158 active).
Other updated case numbers from Tuesday included: city of Goleta, 16 new cases (601 total, 81 active); Unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and the city of Guadalupe, 13 new cases (636 total, 44 active); Unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota, 11 new cases (442 total, 60 active); Santa Ynez Valley, seven new cases (360 total, 45 active); South County unincorporated area, including Montecito, Summerland and city of Carpinteria, six new cases (425 total, 34 active); and Isla Vista, five new cases (628 total, 29 active).
The geographic region for 17 cases was pending on Tuesday.
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart mentioned the possibility that the stay-at-home orders could be extended beyond Dec. 28 because “the infection curve has not been flattened sufficiently to preserve hospital capacity” in the Southern California region.
“Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said state health officials will make a decision on whether to lengthen the Southern California orders this weekend or early next week,” Mr. Hart said. “Dr. Ghaly noted the state will be projecting ICU capacity ahead four weeks to Jan. 25 to determine the next course.
“All regions in California, except for the sparsely populated farthest north region are under stay-at-home orders.”
Officials in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties have requested to form their own Central Coast region and be excluded from the Southern California region, though Mr. Hart said the recent surge in cases and decrease in regional ICU capacity make this request unlikely to happen soon.
“But it gives us more time to create a new region for a new path… to get out of the stay-at-home order,” he said.
Mr. Hart hosted a Zoom meeting with local elected officials and Dr. Ghaly last week, though no additional conversations have occurred since then.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced that five Sheriff’s Office employees and three inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. The total number of Sheriff’s employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 is now 66, with 50 having recovered and returned to work. A total of 92 inmates have now tested positive, including 68 who have recovered.