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COVID-19 cases among ag workers, Hispanics disproportionately higher in Santa Maria
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COVID-19 cases among ag workers, Hispanics disproportionately higher in Santa Maria

Multiagency task force takes on Country Oaks outbreak

Hispanics, Latinos and agricultural workers make up a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 cases in the Santa Maria area, where the number of cases is the highest in the county, according to a report delivered to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Additionally, the greatest concentration of confirmed cases in the city is north of Betteravia Road, south of Main Street and west of Broadway, and younger people and women make up more cases than in the rest of the county.

The information is part of findings in a long-awaited report examining why the number of COVID-19 cases is higher in the Santa Maria area than the rest of the county.

“Latinos and Hispanics in Santa Maria represent a disproportionately higher number of cases compared to their representation in Santa Barbara County population, and in comparison to non-Santa Maria cases," said Van Do-Reynoso, director of the County Public Health Department.

City demographic data as of May 27 was compiled only from those who agreed to be interviewed — a total of 344 patients, with 134 of those from the Santa Maria region — but many of the statistics mirrored those for the county as a whole, which were based on interviews with 443 patients.

The report shows 90% of the Santa Maria patients are Hispanic, compared to 52% of the patients from other areas, while just 4% of the Santa Maria patients were white, compared to 36% from other areas.

Based on occupation, agricultural workers make up 20% of the Santa Maria cases, with the next-highest category, 11%, being the unemployed and disabled.

First District Supervisor Das Williams said he has heard four theories explaining the high number of North County cases, including that there are more people per household, more people had to work during the lockdown, fewer Hispanics wear masks and there are more underlying health issues.

Do-Reynoso confirmed the number of people per household is higher, the number of people with underlying health conditions is higher, and more people have had to work, putting them out in contact with others just traveling to and from their jobs.

“Is there less face covering in the North County? Anecdotally I’ve heard that, I’ve seen that,” she said, adding no study has been done to scientifically prove that.

Do-Reynoso also announced three additional deaths at Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria, bringing the total there to five during a May 31 outbreak that now totals 37 cases, about a third of them among staff members.

“They’ve had some significant staffing challenges,” Do-Reynoso said, adding a state and local multiagency effort is underway to help with staffing and bring the outbreak under control at the skilled nursing facility on East Chapel Street.

Two state teams that specialize in COVID-19 response and patient care are at the facility, along with people from the county’s volunteer medical resource corps and Health Corps, a state-run staffing service, Do-Reynoso said.

She also provided a comparison of the number of COVID-19 deaths to those from other causes and told the board the county recently failed to meet all the state criteria for reopening, specifically in the percentage increase in hospitalizations due to the virus.

“The increasing hospital numbers and the information about the skilled nursing facility’s outbreak are very sobering,” said 2nd District Supervisor and Board Chairman Gregg Hart. “It’s a reminder we’re not done with COVID-19 … 

“The good news is that really a large number of people understand what we need to do,” he said, referring to statistics showing most people understand the reasons for social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing hands, although not as many said they could do it at home or work.

In the comparison of the number of COVID-19 deaths to other causes, which had been requested by 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, statistics from Jan. 1 through May 31 show the county’s 18 deaths attributed to coronavirus at the No. 8 position, far below the 273 attributed to cancer as the No. 1 cause and the 271 attributed to heart diseases at the No. 2 spot.

Nationwide, the estimated 103,815 COVID-19 deaths from February through May ranked No. 3 when compared to deaths from other causes in 2014.

“We will always have heart disease and cancer with us, and COVID is going to subside at some time,” Adam responded.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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