More and more COVID-19 patients continue to trickle into Santa Barbara area hospitals, health officials announced Friday.
Of the county’s 720 hospital beds spread across five facilities, 50 percent are now occupied by both COVID and non-COVID patients. Intensive care units are at 56 percent capacity. “This is very concerning,” said Supervisor Gregg Hart, “because hospitalized COVID patients often quickly require more intensive treatment with little advance warning.”
Officials also announced two more deaths ― both associated with a skilled nursing facility in Santa Maria ― which brings the county total to 31. Overall, confirmed cases have increased by 42 percent over the past two weeks.
On a more positive note, Public Health Department Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso reported active cases have actually gone down by 4 percent in that time, and hospitals still have 75 percent of their ventilators available.
Do-Reynoso said epidemiologists determined that 57 percent of recent cases came from person-to-person contact, while 42 percent were traced to community spread. Examples of person-to-person contacts were between children and parents, close friends, coworkers, and roommates, Do-Reynoso said. Community spread came from family gatherings, Father’s Day parties, funerals, church services, bars, and the County Jail.
To free up additional beds, hospitals may choose to reduce the number of elective surgeries they are performing, Do-Reynoso said. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital announced Thursday it was cutting its elective surgeries in half. Total COVID hospitalizations peaked at 80 that day, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Hart said rising figures prove “the virus is very active in our community right now.” Each of us must continue to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors, he said. That means not getting complacent about washing hands, wearing masks, and regularly disinfecting surfaces. “It’s our best and, frankly, our only defense,” he said.
Hart acknowledged those who continue to flout health orders. “I know it is frustrating to be diligent and respectful and concerned and then see other people ignoring the simple request to wear face coverings,” he said. “It feels extraordinarily unfair. I find myself asking, ‘How can they be so irresponsible?’”
But Hart went on to say, “It’s not helpful to be consumed by what other people are doing. … I strongly believe we are all going to get through this together by modeling proper behavior and setting the best possible example.”
Reporters asked Hart if the county had considered enforcing the statewide mask order. Other Southern California communities, including Santa Monica and West Hollywood, have begun issuing fines to violators. “We’re not ultimately going to enforce our way out of this problem,” he said. “We will continue to message, explain, urge, and plead with residents and visitors alike to wear masks.”
Health officials are, however, in the process of sending cease and desist letters to a handful of businesses that are operating unsafely, mainly restaurants that continue to serve food indoors, Hart said. In the vast majority of instances, he explained, a warning is enough cajole compliance. “But if there are egregious examples of an uncooperative businesses, there will be legal consequences,” he said.
“It’s increasingly clear COVID is not going away anytime soon,” Hart said in summation. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and even perhaps an ultra-marathon.”