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Outbreaks in close quarters: why jails and care facilities are COVID hotspots

Posted at 2:27 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 20:57:28-05

When it comes to COVID-19, it is easier to separate and quarantine in a household than it is in a care facility, jail or school.

Local health officials say outbreaks at facilities like these are on the rise.

A coronavirus outbreak occurs when at least three cases of COVID-19 are connected within a setting or a group.

KSBY spoke with Paige Batson, the Deputy Director of Community Health in Santa Barbara County, to find out what the current outlook is.

"I can tell you that currently we have 33 confirmed outbreaks right now," Batson said. "We've seen an uptick because of omicron.”

The Santa Barbara County Health Department says it prioritizes outbreaks in congregate settings, a category which includes skilled nursing facilities jails, shelters and schools.

Batson says the approach to COVID-19 has changed since the pandemic's start.

“It's a lot different now than where we were two years ago at the beginning," she said. "Site visits were essential. Today our facilities, our shelters, our schools, they're much more informed on mitigation efforts and how to prevent [coronavirus]. So we're a long ways."

Whenever an outbreak occurs, employers and health care professionals must report it to their local public health department.

In Santa Barbara County, there is a team focused on the coronavirus response.

“It's a group of outbreak investigators that will follow up with that with the party that is experiencing the outbreak,” Batson told KSBY.

In congregate settings, it is hard to achieve what is called the "incubation cycle": a two-week period without a new case. Close quarters and lack of vaccine requirements at many facilities keep the infection cycle going.

San Luis Obispo County officials told us they’re dealing with 57 current outbreaks.

There are currently outbreaks in just about every prison and jail on the Central Coast, including 269 positive cases at the Lompoc Federal Prison and 347 combined staff and inmate cases a the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.