Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg
Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg says the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is increasing more than he expected with business reopenings in late May. He advised people to continue social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing their hands to slow the spread of the virus. (Santa Barbara County photo)

Another 67 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday in Santa Barbara County, which also has its highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic broke out in March, according to Santa Barbara County Public Health officials.

During the past seven days, the county has averaged 50 new cases per day, and the numbers are “very concerning,” Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said.

“Our hospitals are reaching their capacity for taking care of COVID patients, and we are still battling a severe outbreak at a nursing home,” Ansorg said.

He attributed the increase in cases — and related hospitalizations — to people becoming more mobile after the reopenings that occurred over Memorial Day weekend and the following week.

“We did expect that our numbers would likely increase a bit; however, I did not imagine it would happen to such a degree,” Ansorg said. “I have noticed that many more people are truly letting their guard down, being lax about social distancing or wearing a mask.

“I do acknowledge that opening up hotels, movie theaters as well as bars and restaurants does send a message as if COVID was over and everything can go back to normal as before. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

On Friday, there were 65 Santa Barbara County residents hospitalized with COVID-19, and “17 of them are fighting for their lives in ICU,” Ansorg said. There were another six COVID-19 patients from the Lompoc federal correctional complex, for a total of 71 as of Friday.
“COVID is still very much a threat to everyone,” Ansorg said, adding that the statewide stay-at-home order and guidance to avoid travel when possible remain in effect. “Reducing the mobility of people is the best way to slow the spread of the virus.”
The county is promoting a safe and responsible reopening of businesses because economic recovery is as essential to public health as avoiding the novel coronavirus, he said.
“In order to be successful with striking this balance, everybody has to play their part and support the measures that have proven to reduce the spread of the virus,” he said.
Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Friday that the county continues to be on a watchlist for not meeting some state reopening metrics. Specifically, the county’s increase in hospitalizations and lowering intensive care unit capacity are being monitored, she said.
Ansorg said hospital clinicians are calling and texting him frequently, concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.
“If you come down with the COVID disease, the first three to five days are most critical in determining if you are going to get really ill or if you are on the way of recovery. Once you turn the corner towards getting worse, it is a very rapid decline, usually that ends up in the intensive care unit,” he said. “So if you only have 30 patients in all of our hospitals all over the county, you only have 30 ticking time bombs where you have to anticipate a very rapid decline in their health care. Today, we have 65 of them. So, that is a significant increase in numbers over just a couple of weeks, and therefore I feel more concerned.” 

Of the 67 new positive cases reported Friday, 44 were from Santa Maria, 11 were from Santa Barbara, six were from the unincorporated North County, two were from the Santa Ynez Valley, one was from Goleta, one was from Lompoc and two had the location pending, according to Public Health.

There is an ongoing outbreak at the Country Oaks Care Center skilled nursing home in Santa Maria, where five residents have died of COVID-19, Do-Reynoso said. As of Friday, 28 patients and 26 staff members had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, she said. 

Outbreak at the Main Jail 

The Sheriff’s Department reported Thursday that nine Main Jail employees and one inmate recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and Sheriff Bill Brown said Friday that additional people have tested positive.

The Main Jail staff who have tested positive this week include five civilian staff members who work in the records department, eight custody sworn staff including Chief Custody Deputy Vincent Wasilewski, three lieutenants, one sergeant and three deputies.

Of the two inmates who recently tested positive, one has been in isolation since being extradited to Santa Barbara and booked, but the other inmate was in a group housing unit and told jail medical staff last week that he didn’t feel well, Brown said. 

That man was tested and isolated, and after he tested positive, all of the other inmates in his housing unit were being tested, Brown said. 

He said all of the sheriff’s staff at the Main Jail, including the contracted medical staff, are being tested for COVID-19, and 114 people had been tested as of Friday.

County COVID hospitalizations

COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing “in a pretty steep linear path” in Santa Barbara County, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg reported Friday. Intensive care unit admissions are also increasing. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk graphic)

“We have plans in place to manage this outbreak and address numbers that may increase,” Brown said. 

Jail staff have had a policy of isolating and quarantining all incoming inmates to the jail for 14 days, even after court appearances, and stopped on June 2. With the outbreak, they are restarting the policy, Brown said.  

Brown said he had been tested for COVID-19 previously, but he’ll likely get tested again in light of the recent increase in jail cases. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.