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During the week leading up to Memorial Day, Santa Barbara County averaged 13 new COVID-19 cases per day. Now, the county has an average of 121 new cases per day.
2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart had to repeat those figures during a press conference Friday to let them sink in. The state requirement for a county Santa Barbara’s size is an average of eight new cases per day — today’s new case count is more than 15 times that. Hart was adamant, though, that the way forward is to continue to educate and stick to basic pandemic protocol.
“The strategy remains the same,” Hart said. “Wear a mask; stay six feet apart; wash your hands; limit contacts. We can reduce the spread of the virus in half by the end of August if we all work together.”
Hart was not keen on enforcement practices beyond educating those who are found violating health orders like not wearing a mask. Though he said the county would be collaborating with the City of Santa Barbara to develop a regional enforcement plan, he said that enforcement of individuals wearing masks is “extraordinarily difficult” and could potentially result in confrontations.
“We are going to be more productive as a community if we focus on the positive education message that we are all in this together and the consequences of our individual actions have a serious and cumulative effect on all of us,” Hart said.
Hart also invited J. Trees Ritter, an infectious disease specialist and one of the chief medical officers at Marian Regional Medical Center, to talk about his experience treating patients in Santa Maria, the county’s largest virus hot spot.
Ritter said that just in the past month, the number of patients hospitalized at Marian for COVID-19 hovered in the range of “high 40s to low 50s,” about 20 to 22 of which were in the intensive care unit with 16 or 17 on ventilators at any given time.
Deputy Director of the County Public Health Department Paige Batson also gave an update on virus data from a county-wide perspective. She reported 133 new cases today and 362 active community cases. Of all community cases in the county, 4,565 of 5,179 have fully recovered. Currently, 85 people are in a hospital due to the virus, 26 of whom are in an intensive care unit. Active cases are defined as being less than 10 days from the onset of symptoms or lab test for those who don’t have symptoms.
Batson said that the county has been on the state watch list for over 40 days due to it not meeting the epidemiological requirements. She said that as contact tracers have improved — it now takes an average of 2.1 days to contact an individual once they’ve tested positive — they have revealed the most common ways the virus is spreading in the county.
“The key way that is spreading in our communities is through gatherings with people from outside the same household,” Batson said. “This includes backyard barbeques, extended family celebrations, and other gatherings.”
The county has about 75 to 80 contact tracers working during the pandemic and so have been able to interview 94 percent of those who tested positive. They have found that 29 percent of those who contracted the virus got it as a result of person-to-person spread in the community; 18 percent contracted it as a result of person-to-person contact in the Lompoc Prison; 21 percent acquired it from travel outside the county; and 18 percent are community acquired, meaning it is unclear how they contracted the virus other than from the community.
The county will hold its next press conference on COVID-19 Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
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+.