Credit: Paul Wellman (File)

With COVID cases exploding like dandelion spores in a tornado, organizers of this year’s Point-in-Time Count —the county’s biannual census of people living on the streets and in cars and shelters — has been postponed from January 26 to February 23. 

In years past, such events were major logistical efforts undertaken with a massive infusion of volunteer labor. With the accelerated uptick in COVID cases, public health officials concluded the current schedule would not be safe. Whether they will be any safer by the end of February remains to be seen, but in South Africa — where the Omicron variant originated — the plunge in cases was almost as sudden and precipitous as its rise. 

Two years ago, the count concluded Santa Barbara’s homeless population had increased by 5 percent from the year before. Most striking was the large number of people reportedly with no form of shelter; 1,223 of the county’s 1,897 people living without housing were categorized as unsheltered. Only 674 were recorded as living in shelters or in transitional housing. 

As of January 14, Santa Barbara County Public Health officials report 1,141 new COVID-19 cases, a 23 percent increase over the prior two-week average. While the magnitude of these numbers can be alarming to public health officials, more so is the rise in hospitalizations. While still not as high as last year’s biggest surge, 103 of the county’s 595 hospital beds are now occupied by COVID patients. With other cases factored in, 70 percent of the existing hospital beds are currently occupied. Anything above 65 percent is described as in “the red zone.” 

When it comes to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, only 10 of the county’s 62 ICU beds are occupied with COVID patients. But 50 of these beds — 81 percent — are in use. 

On the direst end of the spectrum, only 13 of the county’s 161 respirators are currently spoken for. Of those, five involve COVID patients.

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff continues to cover every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Support the important work we do by making a direct contribution.


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