Santa Barbara County’s COVID Death Toll Inches Toward 500

58 Outbreaks in County but Case Rate Continues to Drop

Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The good news the county supervisors heard this Tuesday morning is that the number of new COVID cases per 100,000 county residents tumbled sharply in the past two weeks, falling by 35 percent. Countywide, the case rate is 16 per 100,000; statewide, that number is 95.3, the lowest in the nation. (In San Luis Obispo County, the case rate is 27. In Ventura, it’s 15.) 

For Santa Barbara County residents with vaccinations, the numbers are dramatically lower still, just 6.2 per 100,000. But for those not vaccinated, it’s nearly five times as high, 30 per 100,000. 

The bad news is that there are currently 58 COVID outbreaks in the county and three more deaths have been attributed to COVID, bringing the county’s death toll to 497. Two of the deceased were between the ages of 50 and 69; the other was 70 or older. All lived near Orcutt or Santa Maria. 

To put the number of COVID-related deaths in context, about 3,000 people die per year in Santa Barbara County. Heart-related issues and cancer claim about half.

To date, 67.6 percent of all eligible county residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with the numbers inching up ever so slowly. Last week, it was 66.6 percent. 

To help accelerate the process, the county will unveil its first pop-up vaccination bus next week, which will park in front of Direct Relief’s Goleta headquarters. About 90 percent of UCSB students moving in for the start of classes are reportedly vaccinated. And 72 percent of the 4,480 employees who work for the County of Santa Barbara also report having gotten both vaccination shots. 

That’s a significant increase from the 49.3 percent who reported being fully vaccinated at the end of August. That still leaves 1,200 county workers unaccounted for. And as of next Thursday, September 30, all employees working for the departments of Public Health, Behavioral Wellness, and any correctional facilities — juvenile or adult — must either be vaccinated or getting tested once a week. 

How many will seek medical or religious exemptions remains to be seen. To qualify for the former, a doctor’s note is required. To qualify for the latter requires nothing but a statement of religious objection. 

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How that process shakes out is of keen interest to anyone remotely affiliated with the County Jail, long a popcorn-popper of COVID cases. According to Undersheriff Sol Linver, the jail is currently engulfed in yet another outbreak, this one involving 60 currently infected inmates and three custodial officers. A total of 83 inmates and five staff members have tested positive since an initial outbreak in mid-August, according to a Sheriff’s Office statement on Monday.

According to Linver, it’s possible the current outbreak was triggered by one or more of the three currently infected jail staff, only one of whom was vaccinated. “There is the feasibility it was an employee who brought it in,” Linver told the supervisors. He said that three employees had tested positive. 

Of the 60 inmates currently testing positive, Linver said, 24 had already been vaccinated. Of the 60, seven were symptomatic. 

Of the custody deputies, Linver said, only 62 percent had been vaccinated. He quietly cautioned county supervisors that those deputies reluctant to get vaccinated may contend the state public health orders issued in late July requiring all correctional employees — among others — to be vaccinated by September 30 does not apply to them based on the fine print of the order itself. All jail employees, he added, are now tested daily (before that it was twice a week, and before that weekly). All inmates are tested upon entry and then placed in quarantine for 10 days before being placed in the general population. Of the seven symptomatic inmates, Linver said, one was hospitalized for three days.

Another breakout was confirmed at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission this Monday morning. There, 15 residents of the male dorms tested positive. At the time, the Rescue Mission had 60 male guests and about 40 female guests. According to Rescue Mission managers, about 20 guests have since left the shelter, some taken by county health officials to quarantine and others to a motel in North County. Others are reportedly in the wind or on the streets.

Those are but two of the county’s 58 outbreaks, which involve nine businesses, 28 schools, and 21 congregate care facilities.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to emend several facts about the jail outbreak and to correct a quote by Sol Linver.

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