Santa Barbara County Still Catching Up on Underreported Coronavirus Cases

Public Health Warns Residents: Don’t Gather For Fiesta, It’s Still Not Safe

“Well, I think today is a really significant day,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “We got our first red report card from the state of California, and that is a very big deal.” | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Santa Barbara County is playing a major game of catch up after it learned that a “glitch” in the state’s COVID-19 reporting system has led to a significant underreporting of new local cases.

“Over the next few days, the backlog will be processed and the [California Department of Public Health] estimates 250,000-300,000 records statewide will be processed,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. “CDPH will make upgrades to servers to avoid future outages and they now have a redundant system to validate the reports.”

The underreporting, the magnitude of which is still unknown, can have major implications on local cases in the county. Do-Reynoso said that it affects her department’s ability to receive local lab test results, so they are asking that every lab file results to the local Public Health Department directly. Though it doesn’t affect hospitalization and death counts, the data error comes a week after the department announced it had underreported COVID-19 deaths by 28.

All of the data inaccuracies come in the middle of summer and the canceled Fiesta — Santa Barbara’s annual weeklong celebration of its Spanish colonial heritage, usually involving horses, margaritas, and parties. The county, desperate to keep infection rates down, have canceled Fiesta and related celebrations. 

“The unofficial, traditional Fiesta cruiser ride that would normally happen this Sunday is a very bad idea this year,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “City and County officials have reached out to the event organizers to ask that the event be canceled. Organizers have been very cooperative but the informal status of the event has led to concern that thousands of participants may still plan to do the ride anyway.”

Hart offered a different solution. He said that the Boston Marathon switched to a virtual version and that Santa Barbara can take inspiration from that instead. 

Do-Reynoso also reported an additional COVID-19 death, bringing the total to 69 countywide. The victim was a resident of Santa Maria, over 70 years of age, and had underlying conditions. She also reported 58 new cases of the virus, bringing the total number of active cases to 198, though this figure is likely underreported due to the state’s reporting system.

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