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Though Santa Barbara’s COVID-19 numbers are increasing ― with hospitalizations since Memorial Day weekend jumping from 28 to 51, and active cases more than doubling to an all-time high of 218 ― the county is allowing more businesses to reopen in accordance with state guidelines. Two more residents have died, both in Santa Maria in their seventies with preexisting health conditions, bringing the total fatalities in the county to 19.
Hotels, gyms, museums, bars and wineries, and summer camps are among the businesses permitted to resume operations, explained Supervisor Gregg Hart at a Friday press conference. The Santa Barbara Zoo will unlock its gates on June 23, and Metropolitan Theatres will resume their showtimes starting June 26. Nail salons, tattoo parlors, community centers, and music and sports venues remain closed.
The vast majority of local businesses are abiding by face mask and physical distancing rules, Hart said, though a few aren’t. “Speak up and let the owner know how they can improve,” he advised.
The Country Oaks Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Santa Maria, is reporting 24 cases among residents and 12 among staff, said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso. Casa Dorinda in Montecito reported its first coronavirus infection this week.
Dr. Henning Ansorg acknowledged the rising number of cases and hospitalizations, but he said the raw data must be viewed in the proper context. “It needs to be taken with a grain of salt,” he said. What follows are Ansorg’s full comments from the press conference:
When Public Health reports a case, this means it’s a positive test result per the nasal swab. This swab test is highly sensitive in picking up even the smallest parts of RNA of the virus. The positive result does not mean that the carrier is necessarily ill or even contagious.
Our testing strategy has shifted dramatically over the past month. Initially, as you might remember, we were only able to test very sick patients due to the scarcity of the testing supplies. However, since opening up the three testing sites across Santa Barbra County, we have encouraged everyone to get tested. Many people took advantage of this.
Subsequently, we have seen significantly more positive test results in absolutely healthy individuals who have not been symptomatic and not ill. We do treat all these positive-testing people as if they were contagious out of an abundance of caution because our nasal swab test cannot differentiate between actually infectious virus from no-longer infectious viral material. To determine if COVID-19 is truly spreading more in our community and making people sick, we look at our hospitalization and intensive care unit census.
(Ansorg later said that ICU admissions have decreased from a high of 17 last month to a current count of 12. Hospitalizations, however, have steadily gone up in that same period of time, according to county data.)
Yes, the virus is still spreading. However, currently, it appears that less people experience illness than our daily case reports might suggest. The reopening on Memorial Day weekend brought more people closer together than anticipated. Positive test results since then have increased. However, we have not seen more severe illness across the county as we might have expected.
Therefore, we do feel confident that our continued phased opening of additional industry and business sectors as of today are a responsible move, providing our communities continue to do their part with physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and practicing excellent hand hygiene.
This coming Tuesday, Do-Reynoso said, she will present the Board of Supervisors with demographic data on the county’s COVID-19 cases. Santa Maria continues to struggle with a disproportionate number of infections, Ansorg noted.
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