Santa Barbara Health Officials Brace for ‘Surge’ of New COVID-19 Patients

Outdoor Tents and Hotel Rooms May Be Used to Meet the Demand

Supervisor Gregg Hart | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara jumped from 18 on Monday to 24 on Tuesday, county officials announced, with a “surge” of new patients expected in the coming days and weeks. Of the 24 cases, one is being treated in the hospital, 19 are recuperating at home, and four have fully recovered.

To handle the predicted influx of new patients, said Paige Batson, the county’s deputy director of public health, hospitals and medical providers are prepared to erect outdoor tents with treatment beds and even utilize empty hotel rooms. “Cases will increase, and resources will be much more impacted,” she said.

Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara’s public health officer, said he couldn’t predict how many extra beds might be needed ― “I wish I had a crystal ball,” he said ― but expressed optimism that the region’s health-care system could handle the load. “I’m feeling comfortable that we can meet the demand,” he said.

Ansorg thanked the residents who are abiding by the state order to stay home and practice social distancing during necessary errands. “You are really making a difference,” he said. If and when the surge arrives, he cautioned, don’t let that dissuade you from continued vigilance. It’s still helping to flatten the curve.

Ansorg also reminded residents that if they have what may be mild COVID-19 symptoms ― sore throat, congestion, chills, diarrhea ― to treat themselves at home. Only if their symptoms worsen, or they experience short or painful breathing, should they contact their health-care provider.

Supervisor Gregg Hart talked about efforts by the county government to help Santa Barbara businesses manage the massive hit the pandemic is having on their bottom lines. He promoted a recently published Business Resource Guide, printed in both English and Spanish, and a new Quick Response Loans program organized by Women’s Economic Ventures. 

Sheriff Bill Brown said while the vast majority of county residents are complying with the stay-at-home directive, a select few have been flouting the rules. Brown said he and his deputies, as well as city police chiefs and their officers, have the authority to enforce the public health order by first giving warnings then writing tickets and charging offenders with misdemeanors, if necessary. In extreme cases, they can make arrests. 

Authorities are also keeping close watch for incidents of price-gouging, burglaries of closed businesses, and sales of false cures, Brown went on. Jail bookings have declined considerably since the start of the lockdown ― down 67 percent from the same time last month ― and calls for service have also decreased, by 28 percent. However, instances of domestic disturbances have gone up. “Not unsurprisingly, people are at home together and not always getting along,” he said.

Brown said law enforcement agencies throughout the county are being encouraged to “seek alternatives to arrest” to reduce the jail population. Early releases have also been ordered for 30 low-level inmates. “The inmate population is currently down to 766,” he said. “That’s the lowest number it has been in the 13 and a half years I have been Sheriff of Santa Barbara County.”

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