On a day when the number of positive COVID-19 test results in Santa Barbara County did not change — it remains at nine, six in the North County and three in South County — it was Dr. Henning Ansorg that provided a sobering update on behalf of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Dr. Ansorg, the health officer for the PHD, painted a picture of what continued disregard for social distancing and shelter-at-home orders could do to the county — and the rest of the United States.
“Social distancing seems to be a very crude and primitive measure at a time where we rely on fancy medications and fancy tests. But, unfortunately, this is really our only measure that can help us slow down the rapid progression of the virus,” Dr. Ansorg said.
“If we were to let the virus run its course, we would end up worse than Italy. Meaning, 80% of the population — closer to 85% — would get sick within two months. And at least 5% of that, maybe even more, would need to be hospitalized in a time frame of two months. This would mean that our health care system would basically collapse.”
Dr. Ansorg took aim at the younger population for not heeding the direction of both county health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to stay home.
“I want to, in particular, urge our younger population to take this seriously. I’ve seen pictures from beach parties and so forth, sometimes called COVID parties, I strongly advise against any of this,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Unfortunately this virus is quite capable of making younger and healthier people quite ill. Obviously, the odds are in their favor, however, it’s not unreasonable to believe that a younger person can get seriously ill.”
According to the PHD’s daily release, there were 331 new reported positive COVID-19 cases in California over the past 24 hours, with the number growing to 1,006.
Of those cases, 711 of them are in the 18-to-64 age bracket, while 273 others are from those 65 and older. Only 18 known cases are from those under 17.
There are now 19 deaths in California — with 201 in the U.S. overall and 9,840 worldwide.
“In order to prevent this from happening, we have to take social distancing really seriously. This will give us the chance that not as many people will get sick at the same time,” Dr. Ansorg said. “I urge everybody, even if you only have mild symptoms, to please take the self-isolation to another level. Consider yourself sick, even if you do not have a test result.”
Dr. Ansorg offered that after seven days in isolation and being fever-free without medicine for 72 hours, a person is deemed non-contagious.
Help on the way?
One of the consistent questions that both local and federal health officials have faced is the lack of testing available to the American public, as well as the seemingly endless backlog of tests that have made their way to a laboratory.
On Friday, Dr. Stewart W. Comer, a laboratory director for the PHD, provided an optimistic update on the status of testing in the county.
“The main changes that have occurred in the last 24 hours are very, very promising,” Dr. Comer said. “If you look at how many tests we did in the entire month of February — pretty much done by the CDC and a few public health laboratories — we now have brought on as of today one of the largest national laboratories in Phoenix that will allow for 10,000 tests a day, whereas we did about 1,200 in the entire month of February.”
Dr. Ansorg said that the county is still awaiting results for more than 200 tests it has already submitted, while also admitting that there might be more because private physicians may have sent in their own tests.
According to Dr. Comer, a faster way of testing is on the way, as it looks as though testing kits will be saline swabs in the near future and not the current testing kits.
“This opens up the ability to test more patients once this system is in place, and it should be relatively easy now to get those supplies versus the current shortages that we have,” Dr. Comer said.
Key materials shortage?
Dr. Jan Koegler, PHD’s emergency preparedness manager, provided a transparent update on the state of key materials to help protect healthcare workers.
Dr. Koegler indicated that the PHD is receiving reports of shortage of masks, goggles, gloves and gowns.
The PHD has been able to help the providers through the county’s disaster cache, with Dr. Koegler indicating that they have plenty of N95 masks, while the other materials will have to come through a national stockpile, as well as via Direct Relief.
Indicating that they could likely get through the next month, Dr. Koegler was realistic about the position that healthcare workers are in.
“We are all concerned with the low levels of some of the items needed to protect healthcare workers,” she said.
School is out through April
As crowd sizes are limited to 10 and the county is in a stay-at-home mandate, it is no surprise that the Santa Barbara Unified School District announced on Friday evening that its schools would be shuttered through at least April.
SBUSD superintendant Cary Matsuoka pointed to technology as a way for students to stay connected to their education.
“A crisis is a test. I am proud of our leaders, our staff, and what is being built as we respond to this crisis. I have been so impressed by the innovation and collaboration emerging from our teams of teachers and staff,” Mr. Matsuoka said.
“As families hunker down for the long haul, our technology, our communication systems, and our facilities will be beacons of hope and support for the community. As we head into our spring break week, I am encouraging our staff to take a week of rest before we return to reinventing education as we know it.”
Over the past week, more than 4,900 lunches were handed out at various schools, with the district remaining committed to providing meals for those in need.
‘Relaxed’ approach in Isla Vista
Despite five residents being forced into quarantine in Isla Vista, UCSB felt it was necessary to send a note to parents encouraging them to consider bringing their students home due to “the relaxed approach that many of them are taking to the social distancing recommendation.”
The note — sent by Margaret Klawunn, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and Katya Armistead, Dean of Students — went on to ask parents to “strongly evaluate if bringing your student home may be the appropriate action at this time. Bringing students home is considered essential travel and is permitted within the directives given by the Governor.”
The note admitted that there might be lease obstacles for many, but offered solutions via a series of links.
“If as a family you decide not to bring your student home, please help us by ensuring that your student understands the need to stay in their residence and not attend any gatherings, even between small groups of friends.”
Humane societies will close to public
Both the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria humane societies have announced that they will close to the public through April 19.
“The Santa Barbara Humane Society has served Californians and the homeless pets in our communities since 1887 and we will continue to support those in our care in this critical time. We look forward to serving you all again very soon. We ask our community to stay safe and to monitor our social media and websites for updates,” a news release said.
If you need to connect with either of the outlets for boosters, you can reach the Santa Maria Humane Society at 805-349-3435 x 2 or the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 805-964-4777 x 281.
Paseo Nuevo closes indefinitely
Pointing to Gov. Newsom’s executive order, Paseo Nuevo announced that it would close operations on Friday until further notice.
“We continue to follow the lead and work closely with local municipalities to monitor the evolving situation,” a news release said.
As of early Friday, restaurants such as Eureka and California Pizza Kitchen were still in operation, according to Paseo Nuevo officials.
They weren’t the only retail area to close on Friday, as Macy’s in La Cumbre Plaza did the same.
Tax extension made
Early Friday morning, the Internal Revenue Service extended the 2020 tax deadline to July 15, 2020.
“All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted.
The deadline could be extended even further — potentially Oct. 15 — if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s House GOP plan for the next round of stimulus becomes a reality.
Tax refunds can still be had immediately, with Mr. Mnuchin encouraging Americans to file as quickly as possible.
“I encourage all taxpayers who may have tax refunds to file now to get your money,” he said.
Homeowners that have lost their jobs, or significant income, because of COVID-19 are potentially getting some relief.
Depending on the individual situation, most should be eligible to have mortgage payments reduced or suspended for 12 months.
Federal regulators, working with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, are ordering lenders to offer flexibility to homeowners. These two major lenders represent more than 50 percent of home loans in the U.S. It is expected that the rest of the home loan industry will adopt similar measures.
According to regulators, this does not allow homeowners to just stop paying their mortgage, as they must connect with their lender to work on the terms of the forbearance.
Stimulus package progressing
With the hopes that the guts of a potential $1 trillion stimulus package could be had by Friday night, both the Senate and White House indicated that progress was being made.
“The Democrats are very much wanting something to happen, and the Republicans likewise are very much wanting something to happen,” President Trump said. “There’s a tremendous spirit to get something done, so we’ll see what happens.”
Mr. Mnuchin has said he wants a vote on the Senate floor on Monday.
Revealed Thursday, the Senate Republican plan calls for as much as $1,200 per person or $2,400 per couple, with an additional $500 per child. Payments would be lower for those individuals making more than $75,000 or couples exceeding $150,000.
Some Republicans have indicated that it might not be geared enough at who needs the stimulus, while Democrats have indicated it doesn’t go far enough.
There was also no guarantee that the package will include direct payments to Americans.