Public Health Department Underreports Santa Barbara COVID-19 Deaths

Public Health Officials Discover Grave Error: 28 Additional Fatalities

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso at a press conference Friday, July 31, 2020.

For the past month, the Santa Barbara Public Health Department has been underreporting COVID-19 deaths in the county.

An additional 28 people died from COVID-19 in the time period between June 22 and July 27 despite the public health department not reporting them. Before Friday, 32 COVID-19 deaths had been reported countywide. After the discovery, the figure shot up to 60.

The problem could have gone unnoticed longer, but a staff member from public health had noticed there were more death certificates than reported deaths earlier this week and brought it to the department’s attention.

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said the blunder is a result of “processing errors.” The county had stopped recording deaths manually in June, she explained, and instead relied on the state’s electronic case reporting system, CalREDIE. The county is immediately switching back to manually reporting COVID-19 deaths so it will rely on death certificates for the official count.

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“The county is committed to ensuring that we are providing accurate, transparent, and timely information about the coronavirus in the community,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said at the Friday press conference. “We don’t have all the answers today because we wanted to share this information as soon as possible and we are committed to getting answers to any and all questions.

“We’re being transparent because there is no way to sugarcoat this news.”

Of the additional 28 deaths reported, the vast majority were people who had lived in North County. Seventy-five percent of the victims were over 70 years of age and had underlying conditions. Twenty-two percent were Caucasian and 78 percent were Hispanic. Ten of the 28 deceased were agricultural workers.

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg also reported that there were 74 new cases countywide on Friday. Of the total 249 active cases in the community, 85 are hospitalized and 28 of those are in an intensive care unit. He said there is still an extremely high transmission rate in the county. 

“This disease is very dangerous,” Hart said. “Too many people are getting ill and dying, and many of those who have recovered are experiencing lingering medical complications that could be very serious… The people who have been lost to this disease are missed terribly and the tragedy of this disease is growing each day. We need to honor the people who are sick or who’ve died by doing everything we can to stop the spread of this virus.”

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