San Luis Obispo County has taken a step back in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, as an eighth local person dies and the County is once again ordered by the Governor to shut businesses.

The County Health Department on July 23 announced the eighth person to die of the virus, an octogenarian with underlying medical conditions, who was discharged from a long-term care facility with an outbreak and was hospitalized for three days before dying.

That death came just two days after a seventh person died of COVID-19. That person was also in their 80s, lived in a North County nursing home and had underlying medical issues. (Editor’s note: The number of deaths as of press time is now 11.

“We are seeing an uptick in cases in congregate settings such as skilled nursing facilities in SLO County and we need everyone to do their part to help slow the spread of this disease,” said County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein.

According to the County, “Medical research shows that while COVID-19 has flu-like symptoms, it is more contagious than the flu among most populations and age groups.

“Older adults, individuals with health conditions, and people living in congregate settings [including residential care facilities] are at higher risk from COVID-19. While risk increases with age among adults, younger adults and those without chronic health conditions have also faced serious illness and-19 hospitalization.”

With COVID numbers climbing, the entire county was placed under the Governor’s watch list, which led to the closure of certain businesses, just as they were getting into a groove of restricted re-openings.

The closure list includes fitness centers, churches, many offices, personal care services (nail salons, massage and tattoo parlors, estheticians, and facial services), hair salons and barbershops, and indoor malls. And for the first time “indoor protest” was included.

On July 13, bars, breweries, pubs, and brewpubs were ordered to close indoor and outdoor operations, unless they are offering meals in an outdoor setting, and can comply with previously issued guidelines.

On July 22, a fourth inmate at the County Jail tested positive for the virus. According to a Sheriff’s spokesman, the inmate started showing symptoms July 21 and was isolated. A test confirmed the infection. Also, three correctional deputies and one patrol deputy have tested positive for the virus.

All are recovering, according to the Sheriff’ Office. All inmates housed in the affected jail units are being tested and monitored for symptoms.

“Ensuring the health and safety of our inmates is a top priority,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said. “We have instituted a number of measures to not only keep our inmates safe but everyone who works in the Jail.”

And with the virus still spreading, the County has expanded its “safe parking program” at the homeless services shelter on Prado Road in San Luis Obispo.

“This program offers an added opportunity to work towards economic self-sufficiency, while having a safe location to park,” said County Administrative Officer, Wade Horton. “We have a great relationship with CAPSLO and the city and are glad that together we could find a solution to help keep these individuals safe as we deal with the effects of COVID-19.”

County Supervisor Chairwoman, Dist. 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton released an update to the community. Compton said, “As a reminder, our mission wasn’t to stop the spread of this disease, it was to manage it so that we had the health care capacity to take care of those who are or would become sick.”

She explained that the county has some 396 regular hospital beds and 53 intensive care unit beds. Plus, they built an “Alternative Care Facility” or overflow hospital at Cal Poly that initially could handle 165 cases, but could be expanded to treat over 900. However, the $4.5 million facility has yet to treat a patient.

“We are currently operating the ACS on a ‘stand by’ status,” Compton said. “Recent modeling has determined that 164 ACS beds could be needed in a worst case scenario. That is down from the original estimates of potentially 900 beds being needed. Additionally, we signed a mutual aid agreement with Santa Barbara County for the ACS. If Santa Barbara County’s needs for beds exceed their capacity, we have agreed to work with them.”

The pandemic has so far not hit SLO County too hard. “Overall,” Compton said, “our deaths are still low in numbers compared to other counties in California. We have had outbreaks in congregate care facilities; and we are actively trying to identify the first of such cases in each facility as quickly as possible. Once we identify one or more cases, we do aggressive testing of all the staff and all the residents.”

She added that at least 15 care facilities have had outbreaks and the County Health Department is working with them to improve their infection controls.

he County’s COVID case numbers surpassed 100 per 100,000 residents, which was the State’s threshold for landing on the Governor’s “watch list” that triggered the re-closures of businesses. Compton said they have no idea when they might be taken off the list.

“The goal of every County,” she said, “is to bring down the number of new cases on a daily basis. Please continue to do all things that we have recommended in the past such as wearing masks indoors or where there are a lot of people around you, staying home when you are sick, keeping a safe distance from others, hand washing, keep to your own family units, sanitizing surfaces, covering your cough, sneezes, and staying close to home.” And, the Governor’s statewide stay-at-home order is still in place, she added.

Compton said they are doing “approximately 300 tests a day at our community sites, plus pop up sites that move throughout the county. We are meeting our testing metric [over 425/day] and going beyond that. We have been steady on that metric for the past couple of weeks.”

Because demand is high, they want to narrow the people who get tested. “We do have more of a demand at these clinics right now,” Compton said, “so we are asking for people at a lower risk of the disease, without symptoms, to give their spot to vulnerable person in a high-risk setting or with symptoms as things have tightened up here.”

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, see: ReadySLO.org or call the recorded Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center at (805) 543-2444 is available Mondays-Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions related to COVID-19.