The Southern California regional stay-at-home order is expected to remain in place for at least the next few weeks as Santa Barbara County continues to see a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county Public Health Department, shared that the county has an adjusted case rate of 64 per 100,000. Dr. Do-Reynoso said that health officials anticipate that cases will continue to rise through the end of the month due to holiday travel and gatherings.
Four weeks ago, the county had an adjusted ICU capacity of 38.4%. That figure dropped below 15% on Christmas Eve, and as of Jan. 5 capacity was at 0%. As of Monday, the county’s ICU capacity was around 11%.
The current ICU capacity projections do not meet the 15% minimum that would allow the stay-at-home order to be lifted, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Although the county’s adjusted capacity was at 0%, that does not mean that all beds are filled, she explained. Hospitals have surge capacity built in and can reassign staff or bring in outside resources in order to provide the critical care that is needed.
Dr. Do-Reynoso also shared information on the county’s current testing capacity.
The current county testing sites operated by the state include: the Santa Maria Fairpark, with a testing capacity of 165 tests per day and appointment access of one to two weeks; Buellton, 165 tests per day, appointment access of one to two weeks; Goleta Community Center, 165 tests per day, appointment access of one to two weeks; and the mobile testing unit at the CenCal parking lot, 528 tests per day, with appointment access the same day or week.
The testing sites operated by the health department include one in Santa Maria, offering 75 tests per day with appointment access the same day or week, and a testing site in Isla Vista, offering 75 tests per day with appointments by walk-in only.
In total, the county is conducting 1,173 tests per day, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
In terms of the COVID-19 vaccines, the county is on track to complete the Phase 1A vaccinations, including hospital workers and emergency medical services workers, in the near future, and will soon expand to vaccinate those who are 75 or older as soon as early February.
Newly sworn in Board Chair and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson posed several questions from his constituents, including whether the COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory.
Dr. Do-Reynoso explained that because the vaccines are under emergency use authorization, it is not mandatory.
“I anticipate that once it has full FDA approval, so we’re talking about in two years, that may be a different conversation and it will be left up to the employer, as it is now,” she said.
Mr. Nelson also asked if the stay-at-home orders may have “backfired” or caused “unintended consequences,” in that the orders send people into their homes to gather.
“I wonder that, although our cases are astronomically increasing at such an unbelievable pace, it may be even worse without those restrictions in place,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “I think that we … I totally can understand the frustrations as a community member, personally, socially, academically, professionally, all of that. But I want to say that comparatively, because we have such a good partnership among our community members with adherence, that’s why we may not see an even worse-case scenario like other counties.
“I do believe that part of the steep increase is due to the travel and gatherings post holiday.”
Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said the department is empathetic about the fatigue people may feel with all of the health measures in place, though said that many of the measures will remain in place “for the better part of this year.”
He later clarified that the stay-at-home order may be lifted soon, but practices like social distancing and wearing a face covering may remain in place for some time.
The county Public Health Department reported 470 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as well as eight new deaths.
Seven of the decedents were over 70 and one was between 50 and 69 years old. Six had underlying medical conditions and three deaths were associated with an outbreak at a congregate living facility.
Three decedents resided in the city of Santa Maria. One resided in Santa Barbara, one in Lompoc, one in Orcutt, one in the North County unincorporated area and one in the South County unincorporated area. The county has now recorded 207 deaths associated with the virus.
The city of Santa Maria reported 131 new cases on Tuesday and now has 7,938 total cases. Of those, 854 remain active.
The city of Santa Barbara reported 98 new cases and now has a total of 3,740. Of those, 601 remain active.
The city of Lompoc reported 45 new cases on Tuesday and now has reported a total of 2,257. Of those, 261 remain active.
Other daily totals from Tuesday included: South County unincorporated areas, including Montecito, Summerland and the city of Carpinteria, 37 new cases (786 total, 183 active); Orcutt, 33 new cases (1,211 total, 187 active); Isla Vista, 25 new cases (749 total, 61 active); Goleta, 24 new cases (1,094 total, 206 active); Unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota, 19 new cases (729 total, 121 active); Santa Ynez Valley, 13 new cases (608 total, 122 active); and unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and the city of Guadalupe, 12 new cases (891 total, 89 active).
The geographic region of 33 cases was pending on Tuesday. No new cases were reported at the federal prison complex in Lompoc.
As of Tuesday, 211 people are receiving treatment at local hospitals, including 57 who are in the ICU.
Cottage Health issued an update on Tuesday and announced that it is caring for a total of 301 patients across all campuses. Of those, 216 are acute care patients and eight acute care beds remain available.
Some 23 acute care patients are on ventilators and 88 ventilators remain available.
A total of 96 patients are in isolation and 89 are confirmed COVID-19 positive. Some 21 patients in isolation are in critical care.
The adult critical care available capacity at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, as of Tuesday, was at 17.8%.
In other news, two staff assigned to the Santa Barbara Probation Department’s Santa Maria Juvenile Hall and two staff assigned to the Los Prietos Boys Camp have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, two youth tested positive when booked into juvenile hall.