COVID Cases Explode, Beaches Close

County Beaches Close to Passive Recreation, Public Health Reports 268 New COVID Cases

The spike in COVID infections in Santa Barbara County will close its beaches to passive recreation over the Fourth of July weekend. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

On the first day of July, Santa Barbara County reported 268 new positive COVID-19 cases, making it the largest single-day total since the pandemic hit Santa Barbara four months ago and significantly higher than the 96 reported the day before, which was then the largest number of new cases yet reported. In addition to the clampdown statewide on indoor gatherings, social media messages from Supervisor Das Williams state the county will close the beaches over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which has been confirmed by other sources.

Of the county’s escalated number of new cases, 60 originated in southern Santa Barbara County — from Carpinteria to Isla Vista. Santa Maria — the county’s hot spot — reported 156 new cases. Only one originated at the Lompoc federal penitentiary. Although Santa Maria remains by far the community of greatest and most immediate concern, the growth in South County infections is alarming. One week ago — on June 23 — South Coast communities reported a total of 19 new cases. On the same day, Santa Maria reported 34. On that day, only 63 new cases were reported countywide.

Today’s new metrics bring the number of total cases up to 3,164. The number of deaths remains at 29. No information was included in the most recent posting as to how many of these cases are deemed active. Public Health reorganized its reporting on June 30, and the previous report for June 29 deemed 282 cases active and 2,292 recovered. The most recent information states 64 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized. Of those, 21 are in intensive care units.

Part of the spike in new numbers reflects a growth in testing capacity and testing. But it also reflects an increase in the rate at which those tested are found positive. The county reported today a positivity rate of 8 percent, which is an average over seven days with a seven-day lag time to account for the return of test results. Earlier this week, that number was 6.1 percent. The state’s threshold of concern is 8 percent.

Although the number of tests administered has increased dramatically, issues remain. For example, many getting tested complain of the long wait to get results, Anecdotal reports suggest that waits up to eight days are not unusual. Lag times of such magnitude render the accuracy of test results questionable. As a result, county health officials are calling on “lookie-loos” — people with no symptoms that are an immediate cause of concern — not to sign up for tests.

The spike in numbers countywide reflects statewide patterns that put California among the top states reporting COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. As a result, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all bars and restaurants shut down in Santa Barbara, as well as in 18 other counties that state health officials placed on a “watch list” based on troubling trends in medical metrics.

New restrictions will be announced later today by County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg. Of key interest is the anticipated, and now confirmed, declaration that Santa Barbara County beaches are off limits. Earlier this week, county health officials stated such measures were not warranted in response to a proposal by some Santa Barbara City Councilmembers to shut down city beaches for the Fourth of July weekend. That effort failed when councilmembers deadlocked 3-3; the closure was implemented as an emergency order by City Administrator Paul Casey.

Likewise, county beaches will be restricted regarding passive uses; only active recreation will be allowed. What that means is that if you wish to embody a Corona beer commercial and sit in a chair on the sand, you cannot do it. But if you wish to swim, walk, run, or boogie board, you can do it. All blankets, chairs, umbrellas, and tents are strictly verboten for the weekend.

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