The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 81 additional COVID-19 cases on Friday, with public health officials expressing confidence about further sector reopenings despite little improvement in hospitalization numbers from last week.
Hospitalization numbers this week have risen and fallen to such a degree that they have been essentially flat, while ICU numbers have increased more steadily, from 14 to as high as 22 in the past seven days.
On Friday, the county reported 54 hospitalizations of patients confirmed for COVID-19, with 20 of the individuals in the ICU.
According to county 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, hospitals continue to have sufficient space to accept COVID-19 patients even with recent surges, with only 15.3 of ICU beds occupied throughout the county.
"Today we are very comfortable in saying there is capacity ... which is why we are feeling comfortable enough to open personal care services as of yesterday," Hart said.
He added that the reopening of services such as nail salons, tattoo parlors and esthetician services is not expected to contribute greatly to cases based on what the county knows about case spread.
"Many people are understandably asking, 'how can the public health department open personal care businesses with COVID-19 cases rising in our county?'" Hart said. "The very small incremental contribution the reopening of personal care service businesses will have on future COVID-19 cases is not a serious threat to public health in the county."
Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg added that staff remain concerned about increasing cases, but that most cases remain asymptomatic. However, for the second time, Ansorg was unable to clarify how many cases have been asymptomatic.
Public health officials also stated that the department will soon be simplifying the way it reports hospitalization data, by only referencing hospitalization data reported by the state rather than referencing it in conjunction with data from individual hospitals.
On Wednesday, confusion was also generated about hospitalization numbers at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, after San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein stated that Marian was at capacity in terms of hospitalizations.
However Borenstein retracted the statement, saying she had spoken in error.
Nick Clay, director of county Emergency Management Services, said the incorrect statement resulted from a miscommunication between the Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County public health departments about patient transfers between hospitals.
Sheriff's Department cases
Within the week's new cases, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown also confirmed nine additional cases among sheriff's deputy staff for a total of 18 staff members, as well as three cases among inmates.
According to Brown, the 18 employees include six custody records staff members, a custody records manager, one sheriff’s service technician, four custody deputies, one custody deputy sergeant, three custody deputy lieutenants, one custody commander, and one chief custody deputy.
Brown said an "extensive testing regiment" has been implemented in response to the spread in cases, completing testing of 322 employees and 155 inmates.
"I want to thank the inmates in our custody, because the inmates are engaged and committed to keeping the jail clean and distancing themselves, and I think this has been a factor in not having a more extensive outbreak," Brown said, in addition to thanking county agencies.
Community COVID-19 cases
On Friday, at least one new case was confirmed in every county area tracked by the Public Health Department except for the community of Orcutt, according to county data.
The largest daily increases in cases were in Santa Maria with 41 new cases, and Santa Barbara with 14 new cases.
A total of 954 cases have now been confirmed in Santa Maria, with 157 cases still considered active. A total of 14 individuals have died, nine of whom were residents at Country Oaks Care Center and died in connection with a COVID-19 outbreak.
In the community of Orcutt, 70 cases have been confirmed with nine still considered active. No deaths in the region have been reported.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, 19 cases have been confirmed with four still active. No deaths have been confirmed.
In the city of Lompoc, 137 cases have been reported with 13 still active. Four deaths have been reported.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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