This graph shows positive COVID-19 tests and resulting hospitalizations as reported by Santa Barbara County Public Health on March 30, but testing remains inadequate for the 450,000 county residents, many of whom could be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers. | Credit: Caitlin Fitch

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized has doubled and the number in intensive care units have tripled the past four days in both Santa Barbara County and the State of California — pushing the state and county to continue ramping up surge planning for the inevitable escalation in cases.

“We expected a doubling of cases within three days, and that’s exactly what we are seeing,” said the county’s health officer, Dr. Henning Ansorg, at a Monday press conference. “It is an indicator of just how infectious this thing is.”

The county now has 88 infected patients, 20 of whom were announced today in the biggest jump so far. Fourteen are in the hospital, 10 of them in the ICU. Of the new cases today, nine are in Santa Maria, one is in Orcutt, six are in unincorporated parts of North County, three are in Lompoc, and 49 are recovering at home.

The Santa Barbara press conference came just hours after Governor Gavin Newsom held a statewide press conference around surge planning. He reported 1,432 hospitalizations across the state, 597 in an intensive care unit.

“These numbers have long been projected based upon our modeling,” Newsom said. “We have for weeks now been organizing ourselves around a surge that will require a two-thirds increase in capacity of our hospital system.”

In Santa Barbara, surge planning has been underway. The county received an additional 1 million face masks for health-care workers today, and Cottage Hospital has already built triage tents for the anticipated surge of more patients. As of last week the county had 32 ventilators between its five hospitals, though Dr. Ansorg was unclear when the county will receive more.

“If you look at New York City, to me it’s just heartbreaking because it’s such a vibrant city,” Dr. Ansorg said about the city’s overflow of sick COVID-19 patients. “The mathematics of this virus are just vicious.

“It’s really scary and the mathematics look scary, but I want everybody to take responsibility for themselves and the community and just stay home,” he continued.

On the state front, Newsom explained that surge planning is three-pronged: finding new places for beds, having adequate medical supplies, and having enough health-care workers. On the first prong, he said the state is making the most progress as beds are being secured throughout the state and the additional 50,000-bed goal is workable.

For supplies, Newsom said the state is “making progress but still more needs to be done.” The state has already distributed 36.2 million N95 masks, including the one million masks Santa Barbara County received today. There are currently just over 4,000 ventilators, and the goal is 10,000. 

“We’re hoping the federal government can assist us beyond the 170 that came into L.A. County, but if they don’t we’ll be as resourceful as we possibly can,” Newsom said about the ventilators.

The largest surge initiative Newsom discussed was medical personnel. He launched a new initiative to be able to utilize more health-care workers in time for the surge.

“Today, we are announcing a new effort,,” Newsome said. “It is a platform to match individuals who may have retired in the last five years, people in the process of getting licensed or re-licensed, or people in nursing or medical schools who are nearing the completion of school.”

In other words, the state is looking to fast-track medical and nursing school students and bring back retired professionals so they can join the workforce during the COVID-19 surge.  

“We are going out now to deeply find the kind of talent that is necessary beyond the scope of practice changes and beyond the regulatory changes to make sure we have the adequate workforce,” Newsom said. “We’re looking for mental-health experts, looking for more EMTS, pharmacists, phlebotomists. We’re looking for more experts in respiratory care … we are calling on you to step up and step in.”

Santa Barbarans who may be eligible to join the COVID-19 workforce are encouraged to register here. 

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff continues to cover every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Support the important work we do by making a direct contribution.


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