Santa Barbara County officials are deeply concerned about the county's rising rate of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the last week, with the county now on the California Department of Public Health's "watch list."
On Friday, the county Public Health Department confirmed 67 additional COVID-19 cases for a total of 1,330 among county residents, a number that county Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said he did not expect the county to reach so soon.
"When reopening on Memorial Day Weekend and even more so the week after, we did expect our numbers would likely increase a bit, however I did not expect it would happen to such a degree," Ansorg said, adding that the county has seen a daily average of 50 cases over the last week.
The county has now reached its highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate yet, with 65 patients hospitalized. Of these, 17 individuals are "fighting for their lives" in the ICU, according to Ansorg.
"Our hospitals are reaching their capacity for taking care of COVID patients," he said. When asked the specific capacity of the county's hospitals, he said he did not know, but that many of the hospitalizations are at Marian Regional Medical Center.
In response to the rising rates, the department opted not to continue into the next step of phased reopening permitted by the state, which would have allowed personal care services in the county including tattoo parlors, nail salons and massage services to open on Friday.
COVID-19 outbreaks have now been found at six senior care facilities in the county, with the most severe outbreak at Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria, according to public health officials.
As of Friday, 26 residents and 24 staff members at the care center have tested positive for the virus, and five residents have died.
Outbreaks at the five other facilities are limited to five infections or less among residents and staff, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said.
On Thursday evening, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department shared that nine deputies had been confirmed for the virus. On Friday, Sheriff Bill Brown announced that four additional staff members and two inmates at the Santa Barbara County Jail were confirmed for the virus.
Brown said the jail is working with the public health department to conduct contact tracing, and that all jail staff are being tested as a precaution.
Of the county's 1,330 cases, 371 remain active. Eighty-eight percent of the county's active cases are located in Santa Maria, according to county data.
Of the county's 67 new cases on Friday, 44 are in Santa Maria, 11 are in Santa Barbara, one is in Goleta, two are in Santa Ynez Valley, one is in Lompoc, six are in unincorporated North County areas, and the location of two are unknown.
Santa Maria has now seen a total of 746 cases, with 271 cases still active. Nine individuals have died, including the five Country Oaks residents.
The city of Lompoc has had a total of 119 cases, with 16 of still active. Four city residents have died.
The community of Orcutt has confirmed 65 cases with 16 still active and no deaths thus far.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, a total of 16 cases have been confirmed with four cases still active. No residents have died.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.