San Luis Obispo County Public Health officials announced that a 21st person has died from COVID-19 but, on the other hand, the daily number of new cases dropped to single digits last week for the first time in months.

The County had been reporting new cases ranging from 70 to 123, (the latter including 79 inmates from California Men’s Colony) until last Wednesday, when the count was just eight new cases.

That was the lowest number reported since March when the Coronavirus Pandemic was declared a “public health emergency,” by the Governor. The County Health Department adopted the declaration and guidelines and in turn local city councils followed suit.

But the good news didn’t last, as by Friday, the new daily count was over 50 new cases reported the day before.

Residents have been under shelter-at-home orders and local businesses have either been shutdown entirely or as now, open with limited capacity, since March 20.

Latest Statistics

As of Aug. 25, the County reported there had been a total of 2769 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in SLO County since April 1.

Of that, 3206 people had recovered from the virus; there are 441 active cases; and the additional death brought the county’s total up to 21.

That 21st death was also the first person under-30 to die of the virus here. However, just like all the others, that person, who died in hospital in Santa Barbara had health problems too.

Just 12 people were in the hospital being treated for COVID out of 369 total available hospital beds. Five patients were in intensive care units, of which there are 53 available beds.

Of the 21 deaths, 15 were people over 85-years old, including one person who was 100. Three people from 65-84 have died; and two, ages 50-64. One person from 30-49 has died and there have been one death among people under 30.

There’ve been no deaths among infants to 18-years old. So far, no one under-18 has been hospitalized.
According to the County’s report as of Aug.25: Morro Bay has had 39 COVID-19 cases; Los Osos 50; Cayucos 13; Cambria 31; and San Simeon six.

Paso Robles leads the County with 704 cases, with San Luis Obispo second at 339.
To date, 158 people have been hospitalized, with 33 being admitted to ICU. (See: https://www.emergencyslo.org/en/positive-case-details.aspx for more detailed stats.)

A Mistaken Death

A few weeks ago the County removed one person from the COVID death list. The mix-up had the County Health Officer vowing to look into all the deaths, in case they missed something.

“We looked further into all reported COVID-19 related deaths,” Dr. Penny Borenstein said, “because it became known that the circumstances of at least one case was not as clear as the others. This pandemic is ever-evolving, and we will continue to refine our information as we learn more.”

The “reclassified” case, the County said, was a resident at Vineyard Hills Health Center, a nursing home in Templeton that had an outbreak of COVID-19 among residents and staff. That person was already in the final stages of dying when the County found out he or she had COVID-19, and so the virus may have been present but it didn’t kill them.

The incident has the County doing a bit of mea culpa. “Consistent with national standards, the County Public Health Department will continue to classify a known COVID-19 case as a COVID-19 death only if COVID-19 is listed on a death certificate as an underlying cause of death.

“In deaths where it is unclear if COVID-19 may have contributed to that person’s demise, those cases will not be listed as a COVID-19 death.”

County Worries About CMC

While COVID cases at the County Jail have seemingly dried up, the local state prison is a hot spot and the County Health Department has now joined the California Men’s Colony’s COVID management team to try and stop the outbreak.

As of Aug.25, the County reported that CMC had over 239 inmates test positive and a dozen staff members also had the virus.

As of Aug. 11, The County had tested some 140 staff members.

The prison is able to quarantine sick inmates and staffers with the virus are being sent home to recover.

County health officials said the prison “is successfully isolating and quarantining inmates with symptoms or who have tested positive and is providing the necessary care to help slow the spread.”

Though it might be good for free citizens to shelter-at-home, the same can’t be said for the incarcerated inside CMC, where social distancing is not easy.

“A communicable disease outbreak in a prison setting poses a hazard to inmates, employees, and the community at large,” Dr. Borenstein said, “and we are coordinating with all of our local and state partners to ensure that CMC has the support and guidance it needs to control the spread. Correctional, shared or group settings have their own unique challenges for controlling the spread of COVID-19, and our Public Health team is working closely with CMC to take necessary actions and prevention measures.”

The warden’s happy for the help. “CMC is proud to be working alongside County of San Luis Obispo Public Health in ensuring the safety of the staff and inmates at our Institution,” said CMC Warden Josie Gastelo.

Colleges Could Open

Reopening plans by local colleges are being reviewed and if approved, Cuesta College and Cal Poly could be allowed to open up their campuses for students to attend in-person classes.

On Aug. 12, the County Health Department announced that Dr. Borenstein had reviewed reopening plans for “higher education institutions” which would be Cal Poly and Cuesta College.

“We support the safe reopening of our higher education institutions as we all try to slow the spread of COVID-19 here in SLO County,” Dr. Borenstein said. “As our colleges and universities continue to develop their reopening strategies in accordance with the State’s guidance, protecting the community and promoting behaviors that reduce spread of the disease must be the top priority.”

The State Health Department on Aug. 7 issued guidelines for colleges to open for classes and athletics, though Cal Poly had announced that it won’t play football this fall.

The guidelines follow pretty much what’s been recommended all along.

“As modifications to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission are implemented for in-person instruction, adequate preparedness, testing, and training are necessary steps to ensure the safety of students and staff,” the County said. “Key modifications include wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing, as well as closing nonessential shared spaces [game rooms, lounges], limiting visitors, providing individual grab-and-go or plated meals, prioritizing single room occupancy [except family housing], and COVID-19 prevention training for students and staff.”

Other universities across the nation that opened for classes have seen spikes in COVID cases, attributed mostly to off-campus parties and gatherings, which a university has little control over.

Third Deputy Tests Positive

A third Sheriff’s patrol deputy test positive for COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office announced Aug. 19.

The deputy reportedly developed symptoms on Aug. 17, according to a news release, and was tested that day. The test results came back positive 2-days later.

“The Deputy was not in contact with the public,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla. “The Deputy is based at the Sheriff’s main headquarters and was wearing a mask while on duty, so it’s not believed there was any workplace exposure.” The Deputy is now recovering at home.

The Sheriff’s Department had had a total of six staff members test positive — three correctional deputies at the jails and three patrol deputies. However, in the County Jail, “there have not been any new cases of COVID-19 in inmates in over four weeks,” Cipolla said. “The total number of inmates who have tested positive remains at four.”

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