Positive cases. Hospitalizations. Test positivity rate. Social distancing.
The public health terminology related to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 is everywhere, and it seems every agency has its own style of important-looking charts and graphs.
The county Public Health Department information portal, at publichealthsbc.org, has all of the county’s novel coronavirus and COVID-19 information. Business reopening information is on another website, recoverysbc.org.
Here’s how to find your way around the Public Health Department website.
» Status reports: This page has the daily updates from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, with newly reported case counts by geographic area, age, gender and ethnicity.
The county also tracks active cases (the number of people with positive test results who are still infectious), COVID-19 patients in local hospitals and cases confirmed in health care workers.
The “transmission method” information is the result of contact tracing investigations. At this point, many more cases in Santa Barbara County have an unknown source (“community transmission”) than have been tracked back to a known positive case (“community close contact transmission”).
Family gatherings and workplaces have been consistent sources of close contact cases, according to Public Health.
The infected inmates in the federal Lompoc prison complex outbreak were all considered close contact cases. All three facilities at the complex — the U.S. Penitentiary, the adjacent minimum-security prison camp and the Federal Correctional Institution — had outbreaks. Several dozen staff members, including guards, were infected as well.
When the Public Health Department is notified of a positive test result and contacts the patient, investigators ask whether they have experienced symptoms up to that point. Those answers contribute to the count of asymptomatic (no symptoms) and symptomatic (symptoms) cases.
» Reopening metrics: This page includes information that Santa Barbara County has to report to the California Department of Public Health. It is now updated on weekends as well as weekdays.
The state has so-called reopening metrics and a “watchlist” for counties that don’t meet those standards.
Santa Barbara County has been on that watchlist for several weeks, which means it cannot open bars, dine-in restaurants, in-person school instruction, indoor hair salons and other sectors.
Jackie Ruiz, a public information officer for the Public Health Department, said hospitalizations, cases reported daily and the positivity rate are numbers to watch to indicate the community transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“Until we can get that case rate down and that positivity rate down, it would be difficult to even think about getting off the state monitoring list,” she said. “It’s really about how do we break the cycle of disease transmission in our community, how do we convince people to wear face coverings, to avoid gatherings with people outside of your household.”
People are encouraged to stay home as much as possible, reduce their time around others, avoid gatherings, wear face coverings and socially distance by staying at least 6 feet away from others.
» Positive cases: Each case is one person who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Even if someone tests positive more than once, it is counted as only one positive case.
The test is typically done with a nasal swab test, which looks for an active infection, and those numbers do not include results from antibody tests, which are conducted with blood samples.
The total number of cases will increase over time, but the number of active cases (people who recently tested positive and are considered actively infectious, including people who are sick in hospitals) provides the current status of the disease in a community. The availability of testing and the community transmission of the disease (how much it is spreading person to person) will affect the number of new cases reported.
Testing has become limited again — to people who have symptoms or know they were exposed to someone with COVID-19 — so it’s likely that some people who are infected and don’t know it, because they do not get sick or have mild symptoms, will not get tested and will not be included in the total case counts.
The website also includes the number of cases reported at skilled nursing facilities. State-licensed facilities have to report novel coronavirus cases among residents and health care workers, and this week, every facility in the county reported at least one active case. Eleven residents have died in the outbreak in Santa Maria’s Country Oaks Care Center.
Illness and Death
The Public Health Department reports only confirmed cases for hospitalizations, meaning hospital patients who have a positive test result for the novel coronavirus. The state dashboard also includes suspected patients, who have COVID-19-like symptoms but a pending test.
Santa Barbara County and California had a stable number of hospitalizations in April and May (about 40 in the county), but they started to increase in early June. During the past two weeks, the county has reported between 74 and 89 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals.
Health care system capacity is one of the reopening metrics the state tracks, and the county’s Public Health Department reports daily on the number of COVID-19 patients and total patients in local hospitals.
Too many patients at once can overwhelm health care systems, with not enough beds, equipment or staffing to care for everyone, which has happened in other areas of the country and the world. The goal of “flattening the curve” of disease transmission is to avoid that.
The county has “surge plans” to establish additional beds if necessary, including the option to send patients to the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo alternate care site in the campus’ recreation center, and build a field hospital at the former Sears building in Santa Barbara.
» COVID-19-related deaths: The Public Health Department counts COVID-19-related deaths of people who have COVID-19 as a major or contributing cause of death, including people who were hospitalized with symptoms or died at home and had tested positive in life and/or after death during a Coroner’s Bureau investigation.
The state looks for a seven-day average positivity rate of less than 8 percent, which the county has not accomplished within the past 14 days.
The positivity rate tracks how many of the people being tested get a positive result. Since the number of daily tests fluctuates so much, the county tracks this as a rolling seven-day average.
The positivity rate was high in the early days of the pandemic, when testing was limited to severely ill people in emergency rooms, and dropped once testing was more widespread, capturing more healthy, uninfected people.
Delays at laboratories across the country have led to limiting testing again, and that, combined with increased community transmission of the virus, has caused the positivity rate to rise in the county and in California.
The county’s tally of tests includes positive and negative results from health care providers (doctor’s offices, public health clinics, hospitals, etc.), the state-run community testing sites, the Lompoc federal prison complex, skilled nursing facilities and other sources.
The county reports a number of new test results daily, which fluctuates depending on laboratory delays and the day of the week.
The state metric is 675 tests daily for Santa Barbara County, which has been met.
The California Department of Public Health tracks positive cases and hospitalizations by county on this data dashboard website, https://covid19.ca.gov/data-and-tools/.
County and state numbers don’t usually match up on any given day. Public Health officials say they are working on reconciling this, which is partly because of reporting lags between agencies.
What Is Open, and What Is Closed?
The Public Health Officer Orders are online here, and they outline what is allowed to be open and what is required to be closed in the county. That is also explained on the recoverysbc.org website here.
Noozhawk has an Open for Business Directory online here, where restaurants have listed their hours and services.
There is also a countywide map of businesses that filed paperwork attesting that they are following public health guidelines to reopen.