SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Over the last few weeks, the San Luis County Office of Public Health and County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein has released statements that opened topics of further discussion. The following are questions posed by the Paso Robles Press and the Atascadero News to the County Health Officials and their responses. 

Paso Robles Press Inquiry: In a Press Release on Jan. 5, Wade Horton and Dr. Penny Borenstein stated that “COVID-19 is now the number 1 cause of death not only in the U.S. but in our county as well.”

  • According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), updated on Dec. 23, the leading cause of death in the United States was heart disease, with deaths reaching almost 600k in 2020, the second being cancer at 523,775 and COVID-19 following at 300,482. Which makes it the leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, according to the report. 
  • According to that same report, Influenza and pneumonia dropped on the list in 2020 from years prior to ninth after stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Paso Robles Press Question: Please advise what context they are stating COVID-19 is the leading cause of death — is that for the first five days of the year? 

SLO County Public Health Response: During the first five days of the 2021 year, more death certificates were reported to County Public Health with a cause of death of COVID-19 than any other condition. This was also true for the month of December 2020.


Paso Robles Press Inquiry: Press Release Jan. 11 states, “After Public Health Officials consulted with local hospitals, the County adjusted the total ICU beds metric from 53 total licensed ICU beds to show 38 licensed and staffed ICU beds. Previously, it included all licensed beds regardless of whether they could be staffed.”

Dr. Borenstein gave no further details as to why the hospitals are no longer staffed to hold the 53 total licensed ICU bed capacity.

Paso Robles Press Question: Please advise on why the hospitals are not staffed accordingly and why the county is not urging or assisting financially if needed to be sure we are using all the resources available?

SLO County Public Health Response: Dr. Borenstein discussed this briefly in the press briefing yesterday (Jan. 13). I would recommend watching that on the County’s YouTube Channel or reviewing the transcript on our website at, so that you can document some direct quotes, if that is desired. Additionally, questions about how hospitals and beds are staffed is probably a better answered by representatives of our local hospitals.  

Quote from Dr. Borenstien Press Briefing on Jan. 13

But as we really dug down with these folks from the hospitals, we all came to an understanding that this number of staff available or staffed beds that can be stood up in a moment’s notice is really the metric that matters. Because if we don’t have the staff to provide the care, if we have 53 beds, then that’s not a real portrayal of the impact to the system. So we now locally may be different from what you will see on the state website is a use of 38 licensed and staffed intensive care beds. So with that, it’s even better news if you will that our ICU capacity remains high, given that we’ve lowered the denominator. So fewer beds, but still seeing that more than half of those beds are available.”

Paso Robles Press Question: In addition, with the concern of adding strain on our County, why we have we not shut down elective surgery again as we did at the beginning of the pandemic to provide more resources? 

SLO County Public Health Response: We do not have an order locally requiring this, as has been put in place at the state level for some other southern California counties. As a result, this is also a hospital decision, so I would again, direct this question to them.

Paso Robles Press Question: Third, why is the county not re-opening the emergency hospital set up at Cal Poly back in the beginning last year?  

SLO County Public Health Response: Our local hospitals report to the County their bed and ICU capacity daily. We report that on our website at The Cal Poly ACS remains available and ready to open if our hospital data looks to be at or nearing capacity. That has not happened yet, but we remain ready, just in case.

Paso Robles Press Inquiry: According to that same Press Release on Jan. 11, Dr. Borenstein states, “This virus has claimed more than 100 local lives,” “Those are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, children and grandparents who were not ready to die and whose deaths were, in fact, preventable.”

Paso Robles Press Question: Can you please provide the documents or resources that show for a fact that the 115 deaths now reported were “in FACT preventable?” 

SLO County Public Health Response: The primary cause of death stated on all these death certificates is COVID-19. That primary reason indicates that it was not some other factor that lead to their deaths (for instance, age or other underlying condition). The intent behind that statement was to convey the sentiment that these deaths were NOT going to occur anyway. These individuals would be alive today, if not for their contraction of COVID-19.