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[Update: 6/22, 1 p.m.] Santa Barbara County Public Health confirmed on Monday that three people died of COVID-19 on Saturday and that they were residents of Santa Maria’s Country Oaks Care Center. This brings the death toll at the skilled nursing facility to eight individuals, and 54 people have been infected. The three who died on Saturday were over 70 years of age and had underlying health conditions.
Country Oaks Care Center handles short-term rehabilitation and long-term care, including seniors with Alzheimer’s. The facility’s website states it can house 57 patients, who live in rooms shared by two people. Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso stated on Friday that six nursing facilities had newly identified COVID-19 cases, but as of Monday, the other five facilities remained unknown. Public Health announced 62 new cases on Sunday, 43 of which were in the City of Santa Maria.
In the press release, the county reminded those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or health conditions that prevention measures should be observed: Stay home as much as possible, stay six feet away from other people, wear a face covering when away from home, wash your hands regularly, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you’ve washed your hands first.
People who are not vulnerable are asked to be considerate and responsible: Stay home if sick, and do not go to work or other places.
Three people reportedly died of COVID-19 on Saturday, according to Santa Barbara County’s Public Health dashboard. The deaths achieve a new watermark for the county, as the Saturday number follows the June 15 announcement of three dead barely a week before, the highest in the county since the first death on April 1. Whether these new leaps in the death rate are related to the outbreak of cases at skilled nursing facilities remains unknown — Public Health did not reply to Sunday requests for information.
These deaths are notable coming after Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s health officer, held a press conference on Friday, June 19. Departing from his usual professional calm, Ansorg raised the temperature a notch as he explained the urgent need for the public to take COVID-19 seriously. He described how 17 patients in hospital intensive care units were “fighting for their lives.” Doctors from around the county were calling him, concerned that a severe storm of COVID cases could be brewing.
Last Tuesday, June 16, five deaths at Country Oaks Care Center were announced by Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso. The skilled nursing facility notified her agency about the first positive case on May 31, according to Public Health spokesperson Jackie Ruiz. By Friday, five other skilled nursing facilities reported positive cases, and at Country Oaks, 28 residents and 26 staffers tested positive, Dr. Do-Reynoso reported at the Friday press conference.
A cautionary message also came on Friday from Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, chair of infectious disease at Cottage Health. Hospitalizations went up quickly over the past two weeks. In the hospital’s daily report, Fitzgibbons is quoted as saying: “This should get everyone’s attention.
“The epidemic locally is not over. Every case we see here impacts our community as a whole,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “To protect each other, we need to recommit to the safety precautions which are essential to prevent spread of the virus. This means wearing a mask to cover both nose and mouth, diligent hand hygiene, safe physical distancing — and maintaining these protections any time you need to be outside your home and in the community. Carefulness in these small steps could save someone’s life. The work of our community members to protect each other is what makes the difference.”
The steady increase in cases follows the 21 days since Memorial Day crowds filled sunny beaches, and health officials asked residents to consider parents and grandparents, if not themselves, in taking precautions.
In addition to the three deaths, the county dashboard reports 40 new cases and 1,568 tests taken. Among the statistics the state casts a wary eye on are increases in hospitalizations, which took a slight dip on Saturday; this apparently brings the county out of that red statistical zone. The dip, however, may be due to the three newly reported deaths.