COVID-19-related hospitalizations and new cases are increasing slightly, but Santa Barbara County continues to report low activity, according to Public Health officials.

Deputy Public Health Director Ryyn Schumacher said the department is most closely tracking emergency room admissions for COVID, and wastewater surveillance to gauge overall virus levels in the community.

The number of COVID-positive hospital patients has remained low and stable for the past several months.

There were 19 countywide COVID hospitalizations in the week of July 22, about a third more than the previous week’s 14, Schumacher told Noozhawk, “but this still equated to low COVID activity when taking into account the county population.” That's 2.6 admissions per 100,000 residents.

Public Health is monitoring wastewater surveillance at three water treatment plants in the county, which detects the virus “shed” by people with and without symptoms. Recent data shows “very low levels of COVID-19 in Goleta and Lompoc wastewater,” Schumacher said.

When asked about the county’s increasing level of testing positivity – reported at 12.4% this week – Schumacher said it isn’t considered a reliable metric for COVID activity anymore, since so many people use at-home tests (which aren’t reported out by public health agencies).

Testing positivity reports what rate of tests have positive results.

Santa Barbara County has reported 808 COVID-related deaths of local residents since the pandemic began, including six people in June and three in July.

COVID-related data reporting was paused for about two months, while agencies changed their systems, after health emergencies ended May 11.

Last year at this time, Santa Barbara County was reporting high transmission and hospitalizations, and was recommending wearing masks in crowded, indoor spaces.

As seen in the chart below, hospitalizations are much lower this summer.

With low activity right now, the Public Health Department advises people to stay current with vaccinations, and take precautions if they’re exposed to someone who has COVID-19, Schumacher said.

About 70% of the county population is vaccinated for COVID-19 but 19.8% of people are considered “up-to-date” with all recommended booster doses for their age group and health status.

In other COVID-related news, the federal government is funding research into long covid, and clinical trials to test treatments and prevention methods.

Millions of people have long-term symptoms after being infected with the novel coronavirus, according to health officials.

"More than 200 symptoms are associated with long COVID, and the condition can cause problems throughout the body, affecting nearly all body systems including the nervous, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, autonomic, and immune systems," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.