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Worker shortage hits Santa Barbara, as Omicron cases skyrocket

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A record spike in COVID-19 cases brought about by the Omicron variant is causing staffing shortages nationwide.

In Santa Barbara, it’s hit the workforce hard but especially in health care, the restaurant industry and at schools.

Times are tough at Cottage Hospital, as more workers than ever before are catching COVID-19.

“On any given day in the past week here at Cottage, we’ve experienced about a hundred staff members calling in sick,” Cottage Health infectious disease expert Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons said.

Fitzgibbons also says that the Omicron variant is also causing an influx of new patients fighting for their lives in the ICU.

“It’s clear, this is maybe the second most infectious human virus that we’ve ever seen,” she said.

It’s also taking a toll on local restaurants.

At Shoreline Beach Cafe, manager Cameron Pyles says around 10% of his staff are calling out each week.

“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now and this is the of most challenging time ever for our industry,” he said.

To avoid closing up early, the restaurant has added additional workers.

“We tend to have more staff on than we normally do,” Pyles said. “If we do have a call out for anyone, we air on the side of caution, have people stay home.”

Within the Santa Barbara Unified School District, they’ve also struggled with a staffing shortage.

“Fellow teachers are stepping up big time to cover each other’s classes,” Dos Pueblos principal Bill Woodard said. “Counselors are stepping in, administrators are covering.”

Substitute teachers are also difficult to find.

“We’re trying to actively increase the sub-pool,” Woodard said. “This would be the best way to combat this issue, by increasing the number of subs that we have on-hand.”

In a recent recruiting effort, SB Unified is raising substitute teachers' pay by $50 a day.

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Blake DeVine

Blake DeVine is a multimedia journalist and sports anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Blake, click here.

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