Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

This week, COVID-19 exploded in Santa Barbara County so much that the Public Health Department had to extend the axes on the graphs that track virus data.

The eruption in cases is a direct result of holiday gatherings and COVID fatigue, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said at the Friday press conference. Before the holidays, Do-Reynoso warned the public that COVID data was the highest it’s ever been and drastic measures needed to be taken to slow it down. On Friday, she shared that the data has skyrocketed since then.

“At that time, our numbers were soaring, and I was fearful that if people gathered we would have a surge on top of a surge,” Do-Reynoso said. “The data I am going to present to you today is almost twice as high as the December 22 date when I shared my concern at a press conference.”

The county reported 512 new COVID cases on Thursday — the highest number of cases ever reported in one day. There were 1,938 active cases, a near record-high. There were 178 hospitalized due to COVID, 59 of whom were in an intensive care unit. There were four new reported deaths. The case rate was over 60 per 100,000, and testing positivity was 16.5 percent, both record highs. 

“There is a clear increase in people getting sick after the winter holidays,” Do-Reynoso said. “During the week of December 27 through January 2, we had six business outbreaks.”

Two of the outbreaks were in administration, one was in skilled labor, one was in a grocery store, and one was in retail. 

Surge Planning

Ron Werft, the CEO of Cottage Health, had a report on Friday that closely echoed Do-Reynoso’s. 

“We’re definitely in the third wave, but it’s much different than the first two,” Werft said. He went on to describe how Cottage is working on surge planning to accommodate the third wave of the pandemic. 

“Beds are not going to be the challenge,” he said. “… The problem is critical care staffing. We’re staffed right now beyond what we would normally see as critical care volume at Cottage, the ability to identify, recruit, and expand — that kind of demand is very challenging for every hospital in the country, including your hospitals here on the Central Coast.”

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He did share good news, however. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator shortages that were problems at the beginning of the pandemic are no longer an issue. As of Friday, Cottage has PPE for all staff and 98 ventilators with only 21 in use. He said that the hospital, among other initiatives, is offering incentives to part-time staff to take on more shifts as part of surge planning.

Dr. Daniel Shepherd, an emergency physician and the director of Santa Barbara County Emergency Medical Services, also shared at the press conference about surge planning. 

“Surges in other communities have shown that we may have to make some difficult decisions,” Shepherd said. “ … Hospitals are establishing scarce resource allocation teams to help clinical teams decide who would get what.”

He gave an example of two patients needing a ventilator but the hospital only having only one available. The scarce resource allocation team would evaluate the situation and decide who gets the ventilator based on probability of survival and ethical principles, not age or race or other unethical reasons. 

Werft also cleared up questions around transfers to Cottage Hospital. He said that central and southern California hospitals have “hit a wall” with zero intensive-care-unit beds. He said that Cottage receives two to four transfer requests every 24 hours, but that doesn’t mean Cottage takes every one. In fact, they only take transfers that are life-threatening and have no other options.

The Latest on Vaccines and Testing

To date, the Public Health Department has received 16,775 vaccine doses, and they just ordered 4,900 more earlier this week. Do-Reynoso said that she plans on ordering 7,200 more doses next week. 

She said opening vaccination pods around the county has helped the effort to vaccinate phase-one health-care workers. Through the three pods this week, Public Health vaccinated over 600 individuals. She said the Public Health Department plans to increase to 2,100 vaccinations in the pods and finish the month with a vaccination of 5,000 individuals.

Though vaccines are rolling out, testing for the virus still remains a critical component of defeating the pandemic. Do-Reynoso said the county will now have mobile testing available to anyone in the public starting January 11. The first site will be located in Santa Barbara in the CenCal parking lot on Calle Real. The hours on the first day will be from 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m., and every two weeks the site will move to a new area in the county.

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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