Alto Lucero, now formally called Channel Island Post Acute Care, reported 39 residents had tested positive for COVID, and 32 of them had recovered. It remains unknown if several deaths there are COVID-related. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Alto Lucero, a senior care facility, spitting distance from La Cumbre shopping mall, has emerged as a hotspot of coronavirus cases on the South Coast, with 39 residents and 21 employees testing positive. The facility has been in quarantine for at least three weeks, according to a resident’s family members. It’s unclear how many deaths have taken place there, but state data indicate a number between one and 11. Efforts by Independent reporters to contact Alto Lucero managers have proved fruitless. These case numbers are an increase from the 27 residents and fewer-than-11 employee cases reported on July 28.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Public Health’s emergency health officer Jan Koegler identified a new death in a skilled nursing facility in the City of Santa Barbara, the fifth this past week for South County. She declined to discuss specifics regarding Alto Lucero; Buena Vista Care Center has also reported deaths. But in June, public health officials had confirmed five deaths at Santa Maria’s Country Oaks Care Center; since then, seven more had died, bringing the total to 12. Public Health did not reply to requests to explain the contradiction between giving stats for the Santa Maria facility, but not for those in Santa Barbara.

The uncertainty surrounding these deaths is magnified by the underreporting and data errors that have plagued Santa Barbara County and California’s COVID statistics system since July 31. Koegler added that the cases reported at the county’s website for skilled nursing facilities may not be reflective of the past two weeks. Public Health was now looking at death certificates to determine COVID fatalities, rather than waiting on the state’s CalREDIE system.

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Thus far, 73 people have died of COVID-19 in the county, an increase of four individuals since Public Health’s previous press conference on August 7. In that time, 462 people are known to have tested positive, though Koegler also pointed out that with the state reporting snafu, her department didn’t actually know the total number of positive and negative cases in the county. It has thrown off their calculations, and they did not know the “magnitude or timing or effect on the positive rate” of the yet-unreported cases, Koegler said. 

Seventy-eight new cases were reported today: 45 in Santa Maria, 13 in the City of Santa Barbara, five in Lompoc, four in the unincorporated area of North County, three in Orcutt, two each in Isla Vista and the unincorporated Goleta and Gaviota areas, one in the City of Goleta, and three of unknown geographic location. Since the outbreak began in March, about 90,000 tests have been done, that they know of, Koegler cautioned; of those, 82,000 were negative, and 7,400 were positive. Koegler said another 250 were inconclusive. Hospitals held 76 coronavirus patients, 31 of them in ICUs.

Because of the testing delays — it was taking about a week to get an appointment at the free testing sites — Public Health was contracting with another laboratory called Let’s Get Checked in the hope of a quicker turnaround, Koegler said.

Koegler ran down the steps employers and employees should take if a worker becomes ill, which are detailed at She emphasized that people without symptoms, but who’d been in close contact with an infected person, should stay home for 10 days after taking the test to ensure they were not contagious. Anyone with any symptoms of sickness should stay home, she added, but especially those of cough and cold, gastrointestinal ailments, headache, or the loss of taste or smell.

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