Santa Barbara County to Remain Under Stay-at-Home Order

Southern California Region Languishes at Zero Percent ICU Capacity

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly | Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara County residents can expect the regional stay-at-home order to stay for the foreseeable future, the state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reported on Tuesday.

“With the current surge, many hospitals are being stretched to provide the care we want and expect in California,” Ghaly said at the press conference. “You can certainly stretch many rubber bands pretty far as we are stretching many of our hospitals pretty far, but we know that that stretch has a limit before it breaks.”

The order goes into effect when a region’s intensive-care unit (ICU) capacity falls below 15 percent, as has now happened in four of the state’s five defined regions: Southern California — where Santa Barbara County is located — as well as the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area, and Greater Sacramento.

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With the Southern California region now at zero percent ICU capacity, Ghaly warned that hospitals are preparing to operate in crisis care and have a plan in place for making “grave decisions” like rationing resources and staff or having to choose between giving one ventilator to two patients who need it. He did make it clear that zero percent availability does not necessarily mean that there are zero ICU beds because the state uses a formula to allow bed space for non-COVID patients.

The extension of the stay-at-home order should come as no surprise. Just one month after Thanksgiving, Santa Barbara County hospitals hit their peak COVID patient-load since the pandemic began, and on Monday the county’s ICU capacity hit its record low: 6.7 percent. Local public health officials predict that a similar spike will be seen a month after Christmas as well.

“I think the piece that is important to acknowledge is the COVID fatigue,” Ghaly said, “and the level of exhaustion, the trauma that people feel in their communities, the level of impact on our day-to-day lives has been tremendous. Wherein we might’ve been able to do it for three, four, five, six months, getting to this point feels too long for many people.”

He emphasized that communities need to support one another to “hold on” through this tough time when hospital capacities are surging throughout the state. He said that much of the spike is attributed to people’s actions, referring to holiday gatherings.

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