Santa Barbara County has confirmed six new cases of the coronavirus for a total of 32 cases, with numbers climbing to 52 in San Luis Obispo County, health officials from both counties said at press conferences Thursday.
The numbers in Santa Barbara County included the first confirmed cases of the virus in the Santa Ynez Valley, with two cases, and Lompoc, with one case. Of the remaining cases, eight are in Santa Maria, 11 are in Santa Barbara and five are in other South County cities.
Three patients have been hospitalized, with one patient in critical condition, county Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said.
Santa Barbara County has consistently stayed behind other counties in terms of case numbers, including San Luis Obispo County which has approximately 160,000 fewer people but nearly double the number of cases.
"We are trailing behind larger epicenters in this pandemic," Ansorg said. "We do expect that very good adherence to these drastic measures of social distancing could bring down the spread."
Officials also addressed continuing shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers throughout the state and county as coronavirus cases have risen. N95 masks, which filter out air particles as the wearer breathes, are among these shortages.
The filtering capability is what makes N95 masks crucial for medical staff working among potential coronavirus cases, county disaster preparedness manager Jan Koegler said. Cloth surgical masks, on the other hand, only prevent droplets from being inhaled, she said.
The county is working desperately to increase the number of testing kits available to assist medical professionals who are frequently working around potential cases without the proper protective gear, Ansorg said.
"Given the scarcity of the testing kits, we have to assume that anyone with an influenza-like illness could have COVID-19. Workers at hospitals have to deal with patients like they are confirmed [for coronavirus]," Ansorg said.
Along with the announcement of eight new cases, San Luis Obispo County officials said that various recreation areas in the county including the Pismo and Avila piers will be closed for the time being due to social distancing concerns.
Additionally, the county has implemented a safe parking ordinance to open secure overnight parking locations for homeless families and individuals who are living in their cars.
The first site will open in the Los Osos Library parking lot Thursday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., equipped with showers and bathroom facilities and with staff to check people in and ensure resident safety.
Like Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County has also established an eviction freeze for county residents.
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Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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