Five residents in a Santa Maria skilled nursing facility have died of COVID-19, and dozens of others have tested positive in the outbreak, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Tuesday.
Two of the deaths had apparently previously been reported, without mentioning the care center, and Do-Reynoso told the Board of Supervisors that three additional residents at Country Oaks Care Center died on Monday.
There have been 37 total cases reported at the facility, including 13 staff members and 24 residents, Do-Reynoso said.
“This facility is at a critical point, as they have been met with significant staffing challenges,” she said.
She added that California Medical Assistance Teams, Santa Barbara County Medical Reserve Corps personnel, and California Health Corps personnel have been assigned to work at the 57-bed Country Oaks Care Center, which is located at 830 E. Chapel St.
“We are closely monitoring with the state agencies and working in close partnership with the facility, as well as the goal of making sure this becomes a safer environment and staff feels safe working there, as well as residents who are there.”
The first positive cases there were reported on May 31.
COVID-19 deaths have been reported in two other local skilled nursing facilities, according to a California Department of Public Health database.
At least one resident death has been reported at the Lompoc Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and at least one resident death has been reported at the Marian Regional Medical Center’s Marian Extended Care Center.
For numbers under 11, the state database does not disclose the exact number, so “less than 11” is the indicator of at least one.
The state database also indicated one healthcare worker death at the Marian facility, which Dignity Health spokeswoman Sara San Juan said was an error and was being corrected.
Positive cases have been reported among residents and/or healthcare workers at multiple other local facilities, including Buena Vista Care Center, Casa Dorinda, Lompoc Valley Medical Center Comprehensive Care Center, Santa Maria Care Center, and Valle Verde Health Facility.
Active cases are reported at Buena Vista Care Center, Country Oaks Care Center, Marian Extended Care Center, and Valle Verde Health Facility, as of Tuesday.
Country Oaks reports 18 active cases among patients, and 28 total, and 20 total healthcare worker positive cases, according to the state database, which is a higher number than what Do-Reynoso reported to the Board of Supervisors.
(Additional COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported at local senior living communities, but skilled nursing facilities are licensed differently and are the only ones included in this database.)
Santa Maria COVID-19 Cases
Do-Reynoso reported the Country Oaks Care Center deaths during her presentation on Santa Maria COVID-19 cases, breaking down demographics and explaining engagement plans to address the disproportionate number of people testing positive and being hospitalized in the North County.
Scroll down to read the full presentation from Tuesday’s meeting.
The county’s North County and South Coast areas have similar populations, but 55 percent of local community cases have been reported in the city of Santa Maria. Geographical case information is based on where COVID-19-positive people live.
Latino and Hispanic residents are overrepresented in confirmed COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths in the Santa Maria area, said Joy Kane, a senior epidemiologist with the Public Health Department.
Ninety percent of Santa Maria COVID-19 cases have been in Latino and Hispanic residents, she said.
“When hospitalized, the acuity as well as the length of stay is higher among Latinos than other groups,” she said.
Public Health staff surveyed 344 people who tested positive for COVID-19 through the end of May, including 134 in Santa Maria. The survey results are not representative of all cases, since about 600 cases have been reported in Santa Maria to date.
Residents in Santa Maria who tested positive for COVID-19 have tended to be younger than other areas, identify Spanish as the primary language more than other areas, and have lower education levels than other areas, according to the survey results.
Public Health officials also asked about work environments, since they were worried places of employment could be drivers of infection, Do-Reynoso said.
Of those 134 people, 20 percent work in agriculture; 11 percent work in healthcare (including 7 percent with direct patient care); 8 percent work at the Lompoc federal correctional complex, where there has been a huge COVID-19 outbreak with multiple inmate deaths; 7 percent work in sales, retail, salons or massage parlors; 11 percent are unemployed or disabled; and additional cases were reported in restaurant and bar workers, retired residents, housekeeping and landscaping workers, government workers, and other industries.
“What this tells us is a good amount of Santa Maria cases were essential-services workers,” Do-Reynoso said.
Disease control investigators talk to most people who have tested positive, and their surveys show only 52 percent of people say they are able to practice social distancing at work.
“Like other jurisdictions, we are seeing that communities that have to work, who are out and about on their way to work, with lots of exposures, either taking public transportation or at workplaces interacting with the public, populations of those communities do have a higher incidence of positivity,” she said.
The supervisors asked about other explanations for the higher rate in Santa Maria, and she said there is no study showing whether face covering implementation is lower compared to other areas of the county, and that North County communities do have a higher prevalence of chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The county has not provided any demographic information for local residents hospitalized with COVID-19, including age groups or where they live.
With the report of three deaths Tuesday, there have been 22 COVID-19 deaths reported in Santa Barbara County, including eight in Santa Maria residents, four in Lompoc, four among Lompoc federal correctional complex inmates, one in unincorporated North County, two in Santa Barbara, two in Goleta, and one reported in the unincorporated Goleta Valley and Gaviota Coast.
Surveys show 87 percent of people had heard of the novel coronavirus and had a good understanding of handwashing and social distancing, so more public education may not be the answer, said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, whose district includes Santa Maria.
“I think they all know what to do. It’s whether they are able to do that in the job that they have is the problem, and how to get to the job, a lot of people ride together here,” he said.
“I’m not sure more education is the answer. It doesn’t hurt, but I’m just not sure how effective that’s going to be as a strategy.”
Public Health Department staff plan to work with employers to create safer work environments, partner with the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office to reach agriculture industry employers, and do more public outreach in affected communities, Do-Reynoso said.