‘Irresponsible’ activities alarm Ventura Co health officials



Health officials in Ventura County say parties, indoor church services and youth sports events currently banned amid COVID-19 restrictions are continuing, hindering the county’s ability to fight the spreading coronavirus.

The county’s intensive care unit capacity has dropped to 1%, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have broken records for 10 consecutive days. On Sunday, 181 COVID-19 patients were in the county’s hospitals, 72% higher than the peak of the July surge.

“The numbers are getting to be astronomical,” said county health officer Dr. Robert Levin. “People are going to die that don’t need to die.”

Two weekends ago, there were some 80 football players gathered at a park in Simi Valley. Sports tournaments are occurring in other counties involving volleyball and baseball players, and in those situations, people weren’t wearing masks, Levin said. Some church services are also still being held indoors in violation of the state rules, with worshipers sometimes sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Outdoor sports have been an issue elsewhere too. A youth basketball league in Silicon Valley is at the center of a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 75 people.

At the Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks, there was a report of hundreds of people gathering to sing Christmas carols, many without masks, Levin said. And he’s heard of parties of up to 200 people attending drive-in concerts — organized expressly to allow for social distancing — only to get out of their cars.

Singing is an extremely high-risk activity and has been documented to spread the coronavirus. One choir practice left dozens infected and two people dead in Washington state.

“What’s understandable about this?” a frustrated Levin said at a news conference. “None of these justifications are acceptable in the face of the pandemic. We all need to be working together, just like we would be fighting any war.

“It’s incomprehensible to me, it’s baffling. It’s also irresponsible,” he said. “COVID is running so rampant in our county that one out of every 10 COVID test that we run are positive.

“It’s too easy to run into someone with COVID nowadays and not know you’re being exposed.

There are now 49 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Ventura County.

Dr. Mark Lepore, an intensive care physician at Ventura County Medical Center, said he expects the county to exceed hospital capacity, “and what exceeding capacity looks like is showing up to the hospital and not having a room to go into or not having a staff member to take care of you.”

“The hardest part about caring for COVID … it’s the lack of families being able to see their loved ones, and it’s horrible to watch,” Lepore said. “It’s how slow and insidious the COVID is that it hits the body. You have symptoms for the first eight or so days, and then you just don’t recover.”

Maybe the fever goes away, but the shortness of breath can last until the end. “We’ve had to tell family members that their loved ones are not coming home, and it’s awful,” Lepore said.

He urged people to avoid gathering for Christmas: “Just tell them you’ll see them next Christmas. This is that important: We don’t want your family members to get sick and not be able to get care.”