Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors 2nd District supervisor Gregg Hart updates the community on Coronavirus during a press conference April 29, 2020. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

California Public Health’s massive data snafu is still unresolved, further delaying Santa Barbara County from being able to report accurate COVID-19 data and push forward with any reopenings.

Now at a more than two-week gap in reliable data from the state’s public health department, the county is shifting its focus from the number of daily new cases to how many COVID-19 patients are in local hospitals, which are still accurately counting positive patients. 

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said that over the last 30 days, the range of patients hospitalized for the virus has remained “fairly tight,” from 74 people at the lowest day to 88 at the most. Currently, there are 73 hospitalized. There have been anywhere from 24 to 31 people in intensive care units over the past month. Currently, there are 26. 

Hart said that despite not having accurate daily case data, the hospitalization data indicates that community transmission is far from being under control.

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“Without accurate information from the state testing labs on the number of new COVID-19 cases identified daily, we are flying blind about the current level of community transmission,” Gregg Hart said. “Moving forward on any business reopenings or considering school waivers is premature until we are confident in data and, ultimately, conditions improve to make these opportunities safe.”

The data issue was repeatedly brought up Friday through multiple topics. Some salon owners in the county have publicly declared their plans to defy health orders and reopen their salons Monday. Current orders allow them to cut hair outside with safety precautions, but without the coloring or shampooing services that make up a substantial amount of business. 

“We truly do understand the impact of closure on all businesses and are working to ensure that all businesses can open safely.” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. She continued on to say that without reliable data and significantly lowering the community transmission rate, it cannot be done. She also warned that the move may result in enforcement actions from state licensing agencies. 

Susan Salcido, the county superintendent of schools, similarly said that the state’s data is vital to reopening any of the 120 schools across the county’s 20 districts. Just under half of those schools have already reopened virtually this week in North County, and the rest will reopen this coming week. The county isn’t accepting waivers to reopen elementary schools, she explained, until the entire county meets case criteria for over 14 days.

Flu Season, Young People, and More

Hart brought up the upcoming flu season and its potential impacts on Friday, too. Flu season normally begins in October, and Hart said that this year, getting a vaccine is crucial. He emphasized the danger of two virus outbreaks and called it the bad news, but said that the good news is a vaccine for one of those outbreaks is already available and effective.

“We haven’t had overlapping wide-scale virus outbreaks at the same time since the Spanish Flu pandemic more than 100 years ago,” Hart said. He said that the CDC normally recommends that 60-70 percent of the population get the flu vaccine, but this year it is recommending as many people as possible. Last year, less than half of the country got the flu vaccine.

“Don’t let reports of imperfect flu vaccine efficacy stop you from getting vaccinated this year,” he said.

Suzanne Grimmesey, spokesperson for the Department of Behavioral Wellness, also chimed in about another pandemic within the pandemic: depression, suicidality, and its effect on young people in the pandemic. She said that the CDC has reported that 1 in 4 adults between the ages of 18-24 have considered suicide in the past month due to the pandemic. She also said that more than 40 percent have experienced a mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic.

Young people are also beginning to get the virus at higher rates. Grimmesey said that more than 25 percent of COVID-19 cases are people between the ages of 18-29. She delved into the reasons why that is, including feeling invincible and subsequently not taking as strong precautions or going to see a doctor, and that young adults’ social activities tend to not support social distancing.

Though case counts are still unreliable, Do-Reynoso also reported the most updated data the county currently has. She reported 137 new cases Friday, and 290 cases in total that are still considered infectious or active. There have been 7,274 total cases to date. 

She also reported two additional deaths. The death count and hospitalization counts are counted manually and are accurate, unlike the daily cases. Both individuals who died with the virus were in their seventies and lived in congregate care facilities. One person lived in the Santa Barbara area and had underlying conditions, and the other person lived in Orcutt and had no underlying conditions.

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+.


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