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Health officials call Santa Barbara Co. COVID-19 surge 'significant and sobering'

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Posted at 8:11 AM, Jun 23, 2020

Santa Barbara County is seeing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Health officials say this trend is related to the reopening of more businesses and Memorial Day weekend festivities.

They call the surge "significant and sobering" as Santa Barbara County has seen an average of 50 new cases per day over the last week.

While local hospitals say it's impacting the number of beds they have available, Marian Regional Medical Center officials in Santa Maria say they are prepared for the surge.

“We saw our first surge back in March of this year and we knew the counties were reopening and the county was getting back to some degree of normalcy in their lives and getting back to work that we would likely see some additional transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Scott Robertson with Dignity Health.

Health experts believe most people are contracting COVID-19 at work or at home.

“We are learning more about how people catch this is from being in close quarters with other people who are breathing, perhaps people living with people who are positive,” said Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, a Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital infectious disease specialist.

Santa Maria is the largest city in Santa Barbara County and has the highest number of cases, with more than 800.

“It is true, the more you test, the more disease you are going to find, but we also know that there is a significant increase in the presence of COVID-19,” Dr. Robertson said.

Monday, public health officials reported a tenth death linked to an outbreak at the Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria.

The facility has been closed to visitors since March.

“We had a lot of residents who were not doing well before the COVID thing hit and the COVID may have just pushed them over the top,” said John Henning, Country Oaks Care Center administrator.

He says residents' temperatures are checked three times a day and both residents and staff get tested for COVID-19 weekly.

But even with extra safety measures, it's still difficult to pinpoint the spread.

“We’ve had a number of residents that have tested positive and have had no symptoms and same with staff members also. That makes it very difficult to get a handle on this thing if you are positive but you have no symptoms,” Henning said.

Renee Espinoza visits her grandma at Country Oaks every day through her screen door, checking to make sure she doesn't have the virus.

“It's really scary because you never know what's going to happen from day to day. You get these news alerts and you don't know if it’s your family member, so I pray and come here every day to make sure she's OK,” Espinoza said.

Santa Barbara County is on the State's watchlist to make sure hospitalization rates don't increase more.

The county says at this time there are no plans to close businesses that have already reopened, but they have halted personal care services from reopening.

Health officials urge people to social distance, wear masks, wash hands frequently, avoid touching your face and stay home when you feel sick.