Currently, 72 residents are receiving hospitalized treatment, with 21 people in ICUs. This time last month, 43 people were hospitalized and nine were in ICUs. | Source: Santa Barbara County Public Health Department

The Public Health Department disclosed Wednesday that Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 hospitizations have reached their highest point since the start of the pandemic. Currently, 72 residents are receiving hospitalized treatment, with 21 people in ICUs. This time last month, 43 people were hospitalized and nine were in ICUs.

Hospital figures provided by the Public Health Department only include patients with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infections. They don’t include suspected cases or cases still under investigation. 

Health officials told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that they’d witnessed an overall 49 percent increase in cases across the county over the past two weeks. Santa Maria had a jump of 84 percent. The City of Santa Barbara spiked by 115 percent. Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said that only 33 percent of the county’s medical/surgical beds were available in the event of a surge.

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On Thursday, Cottage Health sent a letter to medical staff explaining its Santa Barbara hospital would be cutting its scheduled elective surgeries in half “based on a projected potential nursing shortage” if trends don’t change. “As a result of our high surgical volume and increased admissions for COVID+ patients, we are concerned about preserving the nursing resources,” wrote Cottage Health Chief of Staff Dr. Marc Zerey. Cottage’s Goleta and Santa Ynez hospitals, however, will continue with their regular elective surgery schedules, he said.

Zerey ended his letter by thanking his colleagues for all their hard work, but he also alluded to more difficult days ahead and the inevitably of an “oncoming surge.”

“This has been a challenging time for many of us,” he said. “The professionalism and sacrifice demonstrated by all of those who provided procedural and surgical services was instrumental in flattening the curve back in March and April. This time around, our efforts may not flatten the curve but will better position us to provide life-saving care for the oncoming surge of COVID+ patients while still caring for non-COVID patients who require essential care.” 

Do-Reynoso told the supervisors in no uncertain terms that if the county is to continue moving forward with reopenings and not backslide into renewed shutdowns, “Public behavior must change.”

In a statement to the Independent, Cottage Health spokesperson Maria Zate emphasized that the recent decision to scale back elective procedures was “based on careful monitoring of Cottage’s metrics for supplies, PPE, and staffing needed for hospital care.” No shortages currently exist, she said. 

“Patients should continue to seek care when they need it, and elective procedures will continue but will be prioritized for scheduling based on need,” Zate said. “We ask the community to partner in safety precautions that will slow the spread of the virus and keep the number of hospitalizations within capacity as we continue to manage safe care during the pandemic.”

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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