The blue dots are the viruses that cause COVID-19; here, they are shedding from a cell, which is how the infection is spreading in Santa Barbara County skilled nursing facilities. | Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Hamilton, MT

Skilled nursing facilities have locked down their residents — voluntarily on the residents’ part — to protect them from COVID-19. Nearly all of them are either in the vulnerable elderly persons category or have health conditions, which also makes people prey to a bad case of the highly contagious disease. But employees, caregivers, and staff hired from third parties must arrive daily to take care of the residents, the premises, and the grounds. New COVID-19 infections have sprung up in both residents and employees among eight facilities in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara.

Public Health officials referred reporters seeking information to the state’s online database, which lists 14 skilled nursing homes in the county that had a COVID-19 case at some point in time. Most of them returned calls and emails to verify the active, and inactive, cases. Public Health presumably has its hands full and could provide few answers. This is what we know:

Casa Dorinda, the most prestigious and expensive among county retirement homes, had one private-duty caregiver who tested positive around June 13, said Brian McCague, executive director for the facility in Montecito. Since that date, the individual, who worked for a third-party company and not Casa Dorinda, has not been back. No cases among residents or workers have cropped up since the asymptomatic worker left the grounds, and McCague felt sure his residents and staff members had successfully passed the 10-day incubation period.

McCague wanted to point out that an employee had tested positive about a month before. Two subsequent tests were negative, he said, and the first test was deemed by Public Health to be a false positive. At the time, the entire skilled nursing facility was tested — residents and employees alike. “They all came back clean,” McCague said. Public Health spokesperson Jackie Ruiz said part of the protocol is to test a positive patient every seven days until they receive two negatives in a row. The patient is then pronounced healthy.

The state requires that on a weekly basis, all skilled nursing facilities test a quarter of their staff “from here to eternity,” McCague said with a rueful laugh, “or ’til this is gone,” he added more seriously. Within a month’s time, all staff would be tested. Among his several hundred residents and staff, no other infections have been found.

The weekly testing uncovered one positive health-care employee at Samarkand around June 20. Samarkand’s parent company, Covenant Living Communities, voluntarily disclosed the information at its website. Randy Eilts, Covenant’s public relations director, said everyone in Samarkand’s health-care facilities was tested. All employees and contract workers must wear protective gear, Eilts said, and no others have shown COVID symptoms.

Country Oaks Care Center continues to bear the brunt of the county’s current outbreaks, with one more employee testing positive this week. This is in addition to the approximately 50 people who tested positive last week. This evening, a ninth death was announced at the skilled nursing facility in Santa Maria. COVID testing began there at the beginning of June, Ruiz said, and they are on their fourth round of tests.

In Lompoc, the Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center stated they had no recent cases. Four patients had been confirmed positive several weeks ago, and one had died. Three employees had been positive and have recovered.

The Santa Maria Care Center is listed with fewer than 11 health-care workers in total who’d tested positive today — 11 seems to be a default quantity in the state database. Contacted by phone, the center representative would only report information to Public Health and did not want to discuss it with anyone else.

Across the street from Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria is the hospital’s Extended Care Center, abbreviated “DP/SNF” in the state database. Deaths among both residents and health-care workers are noted — fewer than 11, it says euphemistically — as well as fewer than 11 who tested positive. Marian did not return calls or emails about what appears to be the first known health-care worker death in the county.

(Public Health later clarified the health-care worker death listed at Marian is a data-entry error.)

Since the pandemic arrived in Santa Barbara County in mid-March, 135 medical workers have contracted the disease, according to Public Health status reports, out of 2,446 total positives. The reports do not display the profession of those who have died, but it has become well-understood that medical workers have an outsize proximity to patients who are severely ill with the easily spread COVID-19 virus.

The Independent was unable to reach two Santa Barbara facilities on the state’s list or receive confirmation from Public Health about the cases at them. One is Valle Verde, and the other is Buena Vista Care Center. Both reportedly showed fewer than 11 residents and health-care workers who have tested positive, but precisely when these cases were found is unclear. No deaths are reported at either facility.

Correction: The Samarkand statement came from Covenant, not its CEO, and Randy Eilts is the company’s public relations director, not the marking director. Also, Public Health spokesperson Jackie Ruiz stated the health-care worker death listed for Marian is a data entry error. And, when one positive case is identified at a skilled nursing facility, “they test all residents and staff weekly until they have two sequential rounds of negatives.”


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