Health-Care Workers, Federal Prisoners Among Hardest Hit by COVID-19

Santa Barbara County Now Up to 192 Confirmed Cases, With 2 Deaths

Dr. Stewart Comer said Santa Barbara is now able to conduct between 80 and 90 COVID-19 tests per day | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

As of Monday, April 6, Santa Barbara County has reported 192 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Within that total figure are two large and very distinct groups: frontline health-care workers and medium-security federal prisoners. 

County officials announced this afternoon that 37 health-care workers have tested positive for the virus since it crossed Santa Barbara’s borders three weeks ago. Many have recovered, and a handful are still recovering, they said. Citing privacy laws, they did not offer further details.

At the United States Penitentiary, Lompoc, better known as USP Lompoc, 23 inmates and five staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19. That is an increase from the 14 inmates and two staff members reported on Friday. The cluster constitutes Santa Barbara County’s only outbreak within a congregate living facility, said Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso.

The Bureau of Prisons operates 22 penitentiaries throughout the United States. Only one ― FCI Butner Medium I in North Carolina ― has reported more COVID-19 cases than Lompoc. County health officials said they’re working closely with the federal agency on isolation and treatment protocols. Sources familiar with the situation said staff only recently received basic protective equipment.

Do-Reynoso acknowledged the disproportionately high number of cases in northern Santa Barbara County, including the 53 in the City of Santa Maria; 37 in the City of Lompoc and in the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village; and 22 in the community of Orcutt. (The combined 28 inmate and guard cases at the prison are folded into Lompoc’s figure.) Do-Reynoso said her department is increasing its dual-language outreach efforts this week in those areas, especially as the holiday weekend approaches. 

Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, said among the 192 infected individuals (116 male, 75 female, and one unknown), 34 are receiving care in a hospital, with 19 in an intensive care unit. Two people have died from the virus. Both were in their sixties and had underlying medical conditions, Ansorg said.

Ansorg also stressed that the figure of confirmed cases, while it continues to rise, still does not reflect the true spread of the virus throughout communities. Assume it’s everywhere, he said, and act accordingly. Stay at home and only run errands when absolutely necessary. If you must go out, plan ahead, minimize your travel, and wear a facemask. And if you need fresh air, get it in your own neighborhood.

But Ansorg had some optimistic comments, too. “We are now on Day 18 of the governor-implemented statewide stay-at-home order, and I am encouraged to see the first indications that there is a slight deceleration of anticipated new infections,” he said. “It is still very early into our efforts of physical distancing. However, these initial indicators do give me hope that we will be able to achieve our goal to slow down the progression of this infection.”

Dr. Stewart Comer said Santa Barbara continues to expand its testing capabilities, and can now perform up to 80-90 COVID-19 tests per day. The “positivity rate” is hovering around 6-8 percent, which is in line with expectations, he said.

Supervisor Gregg Hart acknowledged the upcoming religious holidays of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan later this month. It’s critical that residents resist the urge to gather with friends and relatives, he said, and instead do what they can to observe with one another over the phone or via video chat. Hart also urged continued diligence with physical distancing. It can be challenging in grocery store aisles, “But slow down, and do the best you can,” he said.

“These coming weeks are going to be very difficult as we all experience collective grief and anxiety about the impact COVID-19 is having on our neighbors and the place we call home,” Hart said. “While it will not be easy, we must continue to stay strong and support each other during this emergency.”

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