Santa Barbara County Public Health officials on Tuesday shed light on widespread COVID-19 testing and disease-control efforts at long-term care facilities.

The county reported 78 new COVID-19 cases and one new known virus-related death. There have been 7,074 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 73 deaths, according to Public Health officials.

A Santa Barbara resident “over 70 years of age” died of COVID-19, officials said Tuesday. The person had underlying health conditions and was associated with a congregate-living facility. Additional details about the case, including gender or when the individual died, were not released.

“We are saddened by the loss of another Santa Barbara County resident,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all friends and family members as they mourn the passing of their loved one.”

COVID-19 testing is taking place at long-term care facilities in the county “when an outbreak has been determined,” Jan Koegler, manager of the county Public Health Department’s emergency preparedness program, said during Tuesday’s press briefing.

The sites include congregate-living facilities, assisted-living facilities as well as residential care and skilled nursing homes and “others,” Koegler said.

“We currently work on approximately 25 facilities per week that are implementing widespread testing in response to positive cases,” Koegler said. If one or more cases occur in staff or residents, the facility “then must conduct testing of all the staff and residents.”

“As you can understand, this might mean very large numbers of tests taking place,” Koegler said, adding that the Public Health Department monitors the results and “supports the facilities every week to get the testing done.”

This week, Koegler said, the Public Health Department is “supporting” 11 facilities in the county with either California Medical Reserve Corps volunteers or American Medical Response paramedics “to provide the swabbing or coordination of the testing.” 

The COVID-19 test is usually performed with a nasal swab test.

In the past week, the Public Health Department has reported five deaths of elderly residents in congregate-living facilities on the South Coast, including two people from Santa Barbara and three in the Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria area. The county will not identify which facilities have had resident deaths. 

State and county databases show at least one death reported recently among residents at both Alto Lucero Transitional Care at 3880 Via Lucero in Santa Barbara and the Lompoc Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Care Center at 1428 W. North Ave. in Lompoc.

Alto Lucero reports 37 residents and 20 healthcare workers testing positive during its current outbreak, and the Lompoc facility reports 25 patients and 25 healthcare workers tesitng positive, according to the county. 

In June and July, 12 residents died in a COVID-19 outbreak at the Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria.

Tuesday’s COVID-19 announcement came after state officials acknowledged a technology glitch in the data reporting system a few weeks ago that resulted “in lower numbers of positive and negative results distributed out to counties,” Koegler said.

A disclaimer on the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard notes that “recent data published” is “likely to be an underestimate of true cases in the county” because of state-level computer issues.

“We do expect additional cases to appear in the system in the coming days,” Koegler said. “We do hope to have more information and more data by next week.”

Public Health officials “don’t know the magnitude or the timing of when the cases might come in or how this might affect our testing positivity rate,” Koegler said, adding that more employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the novel coronavirus settled in the county.

Many Santa Barbara County-area businesses reopened with modifications amid the coronavirus.

“Employers play a large role in preventing disease spread both in their workplace and also in our community,” Koegler said.

Koegler said the first step is employees “should tell their employer if they test positive or if someone in their household has tested positive because then they are a household contact.”

The Public Health Department does not require employees to get “retested before they go back to work,” Koegler said. “We don’t generally issue letters that allow the person to return to work, but if they meet all the symptom criteria and it has been at least 10 days — for some people it’s going to be longer — they are allowed to go back to work.”

Local employers and business owners are urged to adhere closely to health and safety guidelines, and ensuring a safe environment for both employees and customers is critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19, Public Health officials said.

The county’s Public Health Department website offers resources for businesses, including details on how employers can help limit the spread of COVID-19, economic recovery and assistance programs. Click here for more information.

Public Health officials reported that 1,411 coronavirus tests had been conducted in the county on Tuesday.

The county’s seven-day rolling average community positivity rate decreased to 6.5 percent, down from 7.8 percent the previous day. The state’s metric target is below 8 percent.

To date, more than half of the county’s cases (5,226 people) are among people younger than age 49.

The CEO and chief medical officer at Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics provided insight into the local contact-tracing infrastructure with their patient population.

“The contract tracing issue is also a tough problem because of this worry about several things,” Dr. Charles Fenzi said. “One is your immigration status or immigration status of loved ones, so this is maybe not the right venue to share this.”

SBNC is noticing a dropoff in the number of people on Medi-Cal, Fenzi said. More than 30 percent of SBNC patients do not have insurance, according to the organization.

“These are people who qualify for Medi-Cal, but because of this public charge issue, they are afraid they are going to get their loved one in trouble who does not have documentation papers by being on Medi-Cal,” Fenzi said. “So, they will give up their Medi-Cal.”

SBNC is trying to get a message out: “You are part of our community. You need health care.”

SBNC is vital to providing quality integrated health care on the South Coast, Fenzi said. The organization consists of four medical clinics, two dental clinics, an integrated care clinic, a Bridge Clinic and health promotion services.

The organization’s officials realized patients may be nervous about in-person visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is taking extra steps to reduce the possible risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“Young people had the idea that they were going to get it (COVID-19),” Fenzi said. “The older folks we take care of have been worried from the get-go, and that’s one of the reasons we weren’t able to see them.”

Of the new cases on Tuesday, 45 were in Santa Maria, 13 were in Santa Barbara, five were in Lompoc, four were in the unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe, and three were in Orcutt. Two each were in Isla Vista and the unincorporated areas of the Goleta Valley. One new case was in Goleta.

Geographic locations were pending on three cases. 

The number of COVID-19 patients treated in local hospitals decreased to 76, down from 84 the previous day. Of those, 31 were in intensive care units, a number unchanged from the previous 24 hours.

Of the community cases, Public Health officials said 5,675 people have fully recovered.

Click here for Noozhawk’s guide to understanding the Public Health Department’s COVID-19 data and daily status updates.

Click here to read stories in Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section.

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

Santa Barbara County Public Health DepartmentAug. 11

Difference from previous day

Total positive cases7,074+ 78
COVID-19-related deaths 73+ 1
COVID-19 patients in county hospitals76– 8
COVID-19 ICU patients31Unchanged
Total test results90,288+ 2,307
Seven-day average test positivity rate 6.5%– 1.3%
 New cases reported Aug. 11Active cases by areaTotal reported cases by areaCOVID-19 deaths reported by area
South County: Montecito, Summerland, Carpinteria021685
Santa Barbara and Mission Canyon13549287
Isla Vista220960
Western Goleta Valley and Gaviota291251
Santa Ynez Valley04802
Lompoc, Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills5305337
Lompoc federal correctional complex001,0193
Santa Maria451233,17640
North County: Guadalupe, Cuyama, New Cuyama, Garey, Casmalia, Sisquoc4132832
Pending location3222700
Santa Barbara County total 783107,07473

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

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