The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 360 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the highest single-day count since the pandemic began in March.

The newest report brings the county’s case total to 13,557 residents who tested positive for COVID-19, while the confirmed death toll remained at 140 as of Monday, according to the Public Health Department.

The dramatic surge in new COVID-19 cases fall just over two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, as anticipated by local health officials, and is directly related to gatherings of family and friends.

“Today’s positive case count surpasses any daily count we have seen to date, and underscores the predictions we have anticipated if people continue to gather with those outside of their immediate households,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said in a statement. “We are at a critical state of urgency with ICU (intensive care unit) bed availability declining at a rapid rate.”

The Public Health Department is working as quickly as possible to do contact tracing on all who test positive amid an alarming spike in cases, according to the county’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

However, resources are “stretched beyond anything previously seen, even with surge capacity plans in place,” Do-Reynoso said.

The COVID-19 Joint Information Center is asking for the public’s help in contact-tracing efforts.

“It is critical that the public assist,” department officials said. “If people have tested positive for the virus, they must take immediate action to stay home and isolate themselves from others, while following the isolation guidelines and notifying others who have been in close contact to them.”

Click here for information about what to do if you feel sick or have tested positive. 

The COVID-19 ICU numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise steadily across the county. 

There were 75 confirmed COVID-19 patients being treated in local hospitals, including 21 people in ICU beds. 

Of Monday’s new COVID-19 cases, Santa Maria tallied 136, Santa Barbara had 68, and Lompoc had 35. The rest were spread throughout the county. 

Seven new COVID-19 cases were from the Lompoc federal correctional complex, where few cases have been reported since the large inmate outbreaks in the spring. 

“We have reached case counts that exceed all previous records,” Do-Reynoso said. ​“It is imperative that each individual take action now and stay home. 

“We are reaching a point where we can see on the horizon our health care system being overrun,” she continued. ​“We must take immediate action as our decisions are now seeing the price to be paid, and it is costing the lives and wellbeing of our community members.”

Santa Barbara County tallied more than 335 new COVID-19 cases in two consecutive days over the weekend, according to the Public Health Department.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department reported that seven employees recently tested positive for COVID-19, including custody deputies who work in the Main Jail. 

Spokeswoman Raquel Zick said the latest COVID-19 cases occurred among five custody deputies, a sheriff’s deputy, and a non-sworn staff member. 

“All five custody deputies consistently wore PPE (personal protective equipment) while interacting with inmates,” Zick said, later adding, “The deputy consistently wore a mask while at work.”

The non-sworn staff member worked in a position that does not involve contact with the public or inmates, according to Zick.

Overall, she said 57 sheriff’s employees have tested positive, with 48 recovered from COVID-19 and returned to work. 

As of Monday, there were no positive cases reported among people incarcerated at the Main Jail, Zick said. 

Vaccines Arrive in California 

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom visited a Los Angeles County hospital where Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations occurred. Healthcare workers were some of the first in California to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Newsom’s office.

“It is a day where we can lay claim to fresh air of progress versus that stale air of normalcy,” Newsom said during a news conference outside of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles. “But nonetheless, as was stated, we have to be sober and mindful of the moment we are in, which is challenging and trying.”

Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup Sunday completed its review of the federal process and confirmed the vaccine is efficacious and safe, Newsom’s office said in a statement.

The group gave its confirmation to the governors of California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.

Newsom also launched the new “Vaccinate All 58” campaign, advocating for a safe, fair and equitable vaccine for all California counties.

“Across California, vaccines will be administered in phases by prioritizing groups according to risk and level of exposure,” the governor’s office said. “Initial doses will go to California’s essential healthcare workers and those among our most vulnerable in long-term care settings.”

During Santa Barbara County’s weekly televised press briefing last week, Jan Koegler of Public Health said the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was expected to arrive in Santa Barbara County this week.

Vaccines will be administered in two phases in the county, following the California Department of Public Health’s prioritization guidelines.

Some of the first COVID-19 doses will go to hospital workers, staff members and residents at assisted-living, skilled-nursing and other licensed care facilities, plus emergency medical personnel and dialysis center personnel.

The novel coronavirus vaccine is expected to be available to the general public in spring 2021. 

Regional Stay-at-Home Order

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors virtual meeting, public health officials are expected to present the status of COVID-19 cases locally, the county’s latest response to the pandemic, and business reopenings. 

Residents can watch the meeting live on the county’s YouTube channel, on the county website, or CSBTV Channel 20. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m.

In-person meetings are closed to the public due to the pandemic, but public comment can be submitted by email before the meeting or made in real time over the phone during the meeting.  

Last week, the supervisors voted unanimously to send a letter to Newsom requesting the county, plus neighboring Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, be allowed to exit the Southern California region of the state’s stay-at-home order.

California officials asked county public health leaders for input on a regional approach a few months ago. Local public health officials advocated for a smaller Central Coast region, but they were overruled by the state.

Santa Barbara County is grouped in the Southern California region along with San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Los Angeles, Imperial, Inyo, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

The stay-at-home order went into effect last week because the regional intensive care unit availability dropped below 15%, which triggered closures and restrictions even though Santa Barbara County’s ICU availability is higher than that threshold. 

The stay-at-home order will remain in place for at least three weeks.

The Southern California region’s ICU available capacity was reported at 2.7% as of Monday, while Santa Barbara County’s ICU availability was 41% .

Ventura County’s daily COVID-19 situation was worse, with local public health officials reporting more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases.

During a news conference Monday, Ventura County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said that 204 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county and 49 of the COVID-19 patients were treated in ICUs.

This means that only 1.4% ICU capacity was available as of Monday.

“If a hospital were a car, it would be rattling right now,” Levin said, adding, “People are going to die that don’t need to die.” 

He reported dozens of recent outbreaks at senior living and long-term care homes, and said cases were reported at more than 80 businesses last week. 

COVID-19-positive patients are occupying a larger share of hospital beds, while the county sees the same amount of heart attacks, appendicitis cases, and other non-pandemic-related medical issues. 

Ventura County Medical Center hospitalist, ICU and family physician Dr. Mark Lepore said hospitals are hitting capacity and will exceed it.

What that looks like is showing up to the hospital and not having a room to go into or having a staff member available to take care of people, he said. 

San Luis Obispo public health officials reported 259 new COVID-19 cases in three days, bringing the total to more than 7,710 as of Monday.

San Luis Obispo County reported 29 COVID-19 positive patients in local hospitals Monday, including eight in ICUs. 

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

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

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

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