Just a few weeks ago San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties wrote a letter to the state requesting a separate Central Coast region
, with the hopes that the stay-a- home order could be lifted sooner than the rest of Southern California. But the COVID-19 situation in the Tri-Counties has changed so rapidly since then that some health care professionals no longer believe a separate region would be wise.
SCREENSHOT FROM CALIFORNIA BLUEPRINT FOR A SAFER ECONOMY WEBSITE
JUST AS BAD A few weeks ago, Santa Barbara County and its neighbors were doing remarkably better than the rest of Southern California. With local ICU capacity now dwindling, that margin is narrowing, and the regional stay-at-home order remains in place.
“For right now it does not make any sense because we are not in better shape than the other areas,” Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said. “I think the idea was that, with the Central Coast alliance, we might be ready to get out of this sooner, but I don’t think that is a very viable solution, quite frankly.”
When the counties first made their plea, ICU capacity was solid, especially in Santa Barbara and SLO counties. On Dec. 7, Santa Barbara County reported 51 percent of ICU beds available, while SLO County reported 48.9 percent.
But in retrospect, Ansorg said, the numbers then were good because the surge in hospitalizations from Thanksgiving holiday infections hadn’t yet hit. It takes about two and a half weeks before infections are reflected in the hospitals, and another week before those who don’t recover then move into the ICU. As of Dec. 29, Santa Barbara County reported 6.6 percent of local staffed adult ICU beds remaining.
“What we’re dealing with right now is the direct impact of Thanksgiving,” Ansorg said. “We haven’t even seen our surge from the Christmas holiday yet.”
Ansorg said he was appalled to see how many people traveled over Christmas, with even more traffic through California airports than over Thanksgiving. We won’t see the full impact until January, he said.
“If somebody got infected Dec. 20, we will only see their hospital bump around Jan. 5, and then around Jan. 12 we will see the ICU bump,” Ansorg said. “You don’t need a crystal ball for that—it’s very reliable. With large numbers, that’s what happens.”
Cottage Health infectious disease specialist Dr. David Fisk agreed with Ansorg that the Central Coast is no longer in a position to be considered separately from Southern California.
“I think there’s less of an argument now to try to be a separate region than there was two or three weeks ago, because our COVID numbers have gotten so much worse,” Fisk said.
He believes the stay-at-home order is critically necessary to keep hospitals from reaching capacity.
“It also will take even more than that,” he said. “It’s going to take people taking very seriously the guidance to not get together with individuals out of their own household.”
Fisk said there could come a time in the future when a separate region could make sense.
“But do I think we should start to carve out a separate region today?” he said. “No.” Δ