A surge of positive results stemming from mass COVID-19 testing at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc this week, has again pushed the prison into the top spot nationwide for inmate cases.
Santa Barbara County's Public Health Department confirmed 310 new inmate cases earlier in the day Friday for a total of 582, but later the Bureau of Prisons confirmed 792 total cases.
Two more deaths in the county were also announced at the end of this week — 75-year-old Jimmie Lee Houston, an inmate at the prison, died Wednesday evening, and a Lompoc resident in their 60s with underlying health conditions died Friday.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of these community members," county Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said.
According to Ansorg, nearly 70% of inmate tests so far have come back positive, although the majority of the individuals are asymptomatic or showing only mild symptoms.
County officials expressed frustration with the Bureau of Prisons, however, which has "rebuffed" the county's offers to help manage cases within the prison and limited sharing information about their response, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's new reopening guidelines require counties to go 14 days without a COVID-19-related death, which in tandem with a higher total case count from the prison, have made meeting the state's requirements difficult for the county.
"There has not been a single 14-day period in which we have not had a death. The outbreak at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc complicates our circumstances as we track the cases … but have no ability to fix the problem," Hart said.
County officials said they are working with state legislators to communicate the complication to the governor's office as well as communicate the need for prison administrators to work with the county.
Widespread community testing also began this week at testing sites in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and as of Friday, in Lompoc.
Each site offers 132 tests per day, with appointments completely full throughout the week, county officials said.
Despite the increase of hundreds of tests per day, only one additional case in the county was confirmed Friday outside of the Lompoc prison.
"We will have the results in the near future from these testing sits, and they will give us a better idea of how much our general population has been in contact with this virus," Ansorg said.
Of the county's now 1,000-plus cases, 464 have fully recovered, 39 are hospitalized with 12 in intensive care, and 225 are recovering at home, according to county data.
Infographic: San Luis Obispo County Coronavirus Cases
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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