COVID hits hard Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara

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Three counties northwest of Los Angeles are seeing alarming spikes in coronavirus cases, further increasing the level of infections in already hard-hit southern California and raising new fears of potentially over-exploiting local health systems.
Conditions in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have worsened significantly due to a post-holiday surge of the virus, with the average number of new cases per day more than doubling the rate seen two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

Infections in Ventura County have grown so rapidly that a doctor has publicly questioned whether the area can cope with its own “New York moment.”

“I’m tired of having to talk to family members to tell them that their family member has passed away from this disease,” Ventura County Medical Intensive Care Unit physician Dr. Mark Lepore said last week. Center. “I’m tired of hearing about family members arriving too late at the hospital because… they fear that when they leave they won’t come out alive.

While Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties have come under fire throughout the pandemic, data compiled by The Times shows Ventura County had the third highest case rate of all California counties in the world. over the past week, with 1,033 new infections per 100,000 population.

By comparison, LA County ranked fourth, with 1,006 new cases per 100,000 population during the same period.

“I am disappointed that our residents did not do better,” Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr Robert Levin said Monday. “I think a lot of them have done a great job, and there are a lot of sacrificed people in our riding who are realizing that whatever they are doing now to limit their behavior in terms of human interaction will pay off. in the future.

But there were exceptions – including, most notably, actor Kirk Cameron, who starred on “Growing Pains”. He held a protest last month in Thousand Oaks where hundreds of people without masks sang Christmas carols in protest against stay-at-home orders from California.

Another possible contributor could be Ventura County’s proximity to Los Angeles, where the coronavirus outbreak has reached heartbreaking levels. Many people who live in Ventura County work in Los Angeles, and vice versa, he said, and traveling between neighboring counties presents many opportunities for visibility.

“I don’t think we have any significant data to support this,” he later clarified. “I just think it goes without saying.”

The large spikes in new cases are cause for concern, officials say, not only because they demonstrate the disease is spreading widely, but because they foreshadow future increases in hospitalizations – and possibly deaths – that will follow.

“We will know in the coming week how serious things are for hospitals,” Levin said.

San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties have reported 886 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, tied for the 10th highest rate among 58 counties in California.

“When we look at the COVID data by day, what we see are extraordinary increases,” Santa Barbara County director of public health Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said in a briefing Friday. “And when I say off the chart, I literally mean off the chart. This week our numbers increased so much that we had to adjust the axes and scales of the charts and maps. ”

But the case accounts only tell part of the story. The cumulative death toll from COVID-19 has doubled in Ventura County since November 1, from 166 to 334. It has increased by about 50% in Santa Barbara County, from 128 to 197, and has more that tripled in San Luis Obispo County, from 32 to 111.

Already, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have skyrocketed on the central coast. Since December 1, they have quadrupled in Ventura County, from about 100 to 400; and in Santa Barbara County, from about 50 to 200; and quintupled in San Luis Obispo County, from about 10 to 50.

The number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units in Ventura County has doubled since December 1, from around 40 to around 80; and nearly quadrupled in Santa Barbara County, from about 15 to nearly 60. There was only one COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit in San Luis Obispo County on December 1; but this number rose to 15 on New Year’s Day and stood at eight on Sunday.

While these raw numbers may seem meager compared to increases seen in more populated areas, they resonate deeply in a region like the Central Coast, where there are fewer intensive care beds.

For example, San Luis Obispo County only has 38 intensive care beds in total for its population of around 281,000 – 25 of which were still available on Monday – meaning a sudden surge in demand for hospitals could quickly leave the county overwhelmed.

Ventura and Santa Barbara counties said there were indeed no beds available for adults in the ICU on Monday. At one point last week, Ventura County – home to about 848,000 residents – only had five intensive care beds available.

The cascading effect of the coronavirus has already had serious consequences for health systems across California.

“I think we’re all concerned,” said Dr Todd Flosi, chief medical officer of Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital. “We continue to be concerned that the graph will not stabilize and that over the next three to four weeks we will see a continued increase in the number of patients presenting to all of our emergency and intensive care rooms.

In anticipation of a possible surge, Flosi said the two hospitals have been working to secure their resources and bolster their staff to handle an influx of patients. They have already set up “disaster tents” in their parking lots and changed their admission processes to sort most patients outside, he said, and are now using back emergency halls to limit exposure of other patients to COVID-19.

Preparations are also underway at Dignity Health’s Central Coast hospitals, including French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, Marian Regional Medical Center and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital and St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Ventura County.

“The number of our intensive care units has almost doubled in the past few weeks,” said Dr. Scott Robertson, chief medical officer of Dignity Health Central Coast, in an email Monday. “We have implemented our surge plans and are using extra bed space that has been prepared for such situations.”

Robertson said the outbreak was already greater than what any of the five Dignity hospitals have experienced to date, and noted that they have purchased additional personal protective equipment, created areas to accommodate more patients and built separate screening areas for COVID-19 patients in emergencies as from last March. Lately, they’ve seen an increase in wait times and the volume of inpatients enough to decide to put elective surgeries on hold, he said – a decision already made in Los Angeles and other southern counties.

But neither Robertson nor Flosi have reported the same sort of issues with bed shortages, ambulance backups or faulty oxygen supply systems that have hit hardest-hit counties such as Los Angeles and San Bernardino. .

Constant communication has also played a role in preparing the region, said Arthur Dominguez, chief nurse at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

The Sierra Vista patient count is about 5% to 10% higher than normal, he said, but “it’s literally hour by hour, day by day. Like most hospitals, Sierra Vista has been in constant ‘plan, execute and reassess’ mode since the start of the pandemic, and has already trained staff to assist other departments as needed.

While hospitals on the Central Coast have not had to take some of the dramatic action that has become necessary in Los Angeles, they are, clearly, ready to do so.

“When you compare that to the news we’ve been hearing from Los Angeles over the past three to four weeks – we’re not there yet,” Flosi said. “But we are preparing as if we can meet up there.”



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