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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Santa Barbara County COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new high

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2020 at 8:54 AM

At the beginning of June, less than 30 residents were hospitalized in Santa Barbara County due to COVID-19 complications. On July 21, that number had increased to 82 after weeks of surging case counts.

While it’s the highest since the pandemic began, the number of people hospitalized in the county has fluctuated between the low 70s and 80s throughout much of July.

click to enlarge CONTINUED INCREASES: Santa Barbara County officials said they were concerned—but not "alarmed"—about the rise in hospitalizations due to COVID-19. - FILE IMAGE
  • FILE IMAGE
  • CONTINUED INCREASES: Santa Barbara County officials said they were concerned—but not "alarmed"—about the rise in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
During a press conference on July 21, county Emergency Medical Services Agency Director Nick Clay said that although county health officials are concerned by this increase, they aren’t yet alarmed.

“It’s difficult to give a number of when we’ll be alarmed,” Clay said. “It’s too many moving parts to have a singular point that we would focus on as that trigger.”

On July 21, the county Public Health Department reported that about half of all local hospital beds are occupied, this includes patients who are sick from COVID-19 as well as other reasons. About 63 percent of medical/surgical beds are occupied, 55 percent intensive care unit beds are occupied, and 23 percent other types of beds are occupied.

Since the pandemic began, 5,124 county residents have tested positive for the virus. Of those cases, 295 remain active and 32 people have died.

During the press conference, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the only way to slow down this increase in case numbers is to wear a face covering in public and to continue maintaining distance from people in different households. He said that through its contact tracing efforts, the county has learned many of the cases are attributable to people infecting other people in indoor settings.

“Unfortunately too many people continue to think their small, intimate group gatherings are not risky events,” Hart said.



The Board of Supervisors recently took action to prepare the county for a significant surge in cases that local hospitals would be unable to accommodate. During the July 14 meeting supervisors authorized the county to lease a vacant building in Santa Barbara that previously held a Sears store and could be converted into a makeshift health care facility.

If a COVID-19 surge hits South County and overwhelms its hospitals, officials have plans to turn the 72,000-square-foot building into a 200-bed facility to treat patients. If North County hospitals become overwhelmed, officials said they have an arrangement in place to use beds that San Luis Obispo County opened up at the Cal Poly Recreation Center for additional capacity.

“This total capacity system of 500 beds is really an insurance policy,” Assistant County Executive Officer Barney Melekian said. “We haven’t come close to needing that since the pandemic began, but it seemed like a prudent measure to have the capacity to do that.” ∆

—Zac Ezzone
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