Santa Maria using education to slow spread of COVID-19
With more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, Santa Maria is Santa Barbara County’s coronavirus hotspot.
Since the pandemic began, city officials’ primary strategy for combating COVID-19 has been education and outreach efforts that inform the public on the virus and ways to prevent it from spreading, like social distancing and mask wearing.
Outreach strategies have included the Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department’s city rangers educating visitors at parks about how to prevent spreading COVID-19, posting English and Spanish signs in strategic locations that encourage mask wearing and social distancing, and inviting personnel from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to speak about the pandemic on local Spanish radio stations. According to city of Santa Maria public information manager Mark van de Kamp, the Spanish radio appearances were especially needed since Santa Maria’s population is 75% Hispanic.
Mayor Alice Patino remarked that giving members of the public as much information on the pandemic as possible, as well as what steps they can take to keep themselves healthy, is a more effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 than enforcing instances where social distancing and mask wearing are disobeyed. The city did fill certain public areas like its skatepark and basketball courts with wood chips because the people using them weren’t social distancing, but the mayor said enforcing every time residents fail to do so would ultimately have “no teeth.”
Mr. van de Kamp concurred that education was a better way to go than enforcement.
“That’s the Santa Maria way, to educate. The best thing is to educate people rather than go out and hit them with tickets,” he said.
A few members of the Santa Maria City Council said the city’s agricultural industry, one of its largest economic sectors, has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Councilman Mike Cordero told the News-Press that this may be due to the fact that many farmworkers live in houses that have a couple different families. The mayor also said this was the case, and that the high number of infections in the agricultural sector makes sense because it consists of essential jobs. Having kept on going through the pandemic, farm and agriculture workers have likely had more contact with other people than the average person since restrictions went into effect.
“Those people who are working in the (agriculture) industry are out and about,” Ms. Patino said.
City council member Gloria Soto said Santa Maria’s high number of COVID-19 infections is not just because employees in certain industries are out and about or live in more densely populated living spaces, but because the city’s low-wage workers don’t have easy access to healthcare. Citing the city’s hotspots as west of Broadway, south of Main Street, and north of McCoy Lane, Ms. Soto said these areas experiencing high infection rates “makes sense because that’s where we have a lot of dense living.” In addition, “it’s also where we have some of the most impoverished areas in our community,” she said.
Believing that more urgency is needed in shaping policy to help people in these parts of Santa Maria combat COVID-19, Ms. Soto said she is “eager” for this to be discussed at the Santa Maria City Council’s July 7 meeting. Avenues she wants the city to pursue in helping Santa Maria’s most impacted population include providing financial assistance to low-income families who have a member sick with COVID-19. This would offer some sense of security and relieve them of worrying about lost wages and paying for housing, she explained.
“We need to have safety nets for families who don’t have them in case they get ill,” she said.
Additionally, Ms. Soto wants to see cooperation between Santa Barbara County and other counties in addressing the high number of infections in the agricultural sector. Because agriculture is seasonal work that has workers migrating to different areas in the state to follow the harvest, Ms. Soto believes it is important to work with neighboring counties to ensure the health and well being of these laborers.
Like much of the United States, Santa Maria is currently experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. While Marian Regional Medical Center’s inpatient volume has increased moderately in the past week according to the hospital’s CEO and President Sue Anderson, it has “sufficient beds and ventilators to care for the community.” In February, the hospital increased its inpatient capacity by 48 beds.
Ms. Anderson said in a statement, “Marian Regional Medical Center is prepared, and fortunately is a large medical center with private rooms and the ability to care for our community during this and future surges.”
Marian Regional Medical Center is also doing COVI-19 antibody testing. Thus far, 3.9% of patients tested through the medical center’s laboratory are antibody positive.