A day after a sixth Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputy tested positive for COVID-19, the Santa Barbara Police Department announced its first case on Thursday afternoon.
The news came amid the unveiling of 28 new cases by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, bringing the county’s overall total to 139.
According to the SBPD, the officer last worked on March 12 and is one of three officers that have been tested.
The officer that tested positive is recovering at home, at an out-of-county residence.
Another officer had their test return negative, while a third is awaiting results.
Both the Santa Barbara police and fire departments have undergone extensive cleaning and utilize personal protective equipment, while also practicing social distancing while on the job.
No firefighters have required testing at this time.
Meanwhile, on a countywide basis, the bulk of the cases continue to hit North County harder, with 81 of the 139 overall in the north, including Thursday’s 11 in Santa Maria, five in Orcutt, three in the unincorporated areas, two in Lompoc and one in the Santa Ynez Valley — or 22 of the 28 new cases.
Of Thursday’s remaining six cases, five are in Santa Barbara and one in Goleta.
“I do know that (the North County) have run more tests,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the PHD’s health officer. “I’m not sure how many more tests they are running compared to us here. They send it all to Texas and we have less control or less feedback from that lab in particular.
“It will take us more time to really go into those details because those test results just flood in electronically and they are ordered by a plethora of different clinics and hospitals. It takes some time to actually call them and do some initial interviewing to get some information.”
When asked about the rapid rise in positive cases, Dr. Ansorg indicated that he knows that the numbers are likely bigger.
“I think if we were able to test more, we’d have way more cases, honestly,” he said.
Of the total 139 cases, 23 are recovering in the hospital, with 16 in the intensive care unit, up from 11 on Tuesday.
Lab comes on board to aid rapid tests
Dr. Ansorg announced that Pacific Diagnostics Lab will now be able to conduct 10 tests per day, all of which can offer results in roughly five hours.
While it isn’t the overall answer to mass testing, Dr. Ansorg found it to be a step in the right direction.
“So we get those extra 10 tests, and every test counts, believe me. However, the real benefit is that we have such a quick turnaround,” Dr. Ansorg said.
Whether or not the lab will be able to conduct more depends on the availability of a reagent that is key to the testing, and it is currently on backorder.
“There are problems with the chain of ordering these agents. That’s a problem,” Dr. Ansorg said.
Cloth masks now highly recommended in public
In a move that is intended to help save medical masks for healthcare workers, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for people to wear cloth masks when they are in public.
While it is not a mandate, Dr. Ansorg explained why following the guidelines can help the unexpected contraction of the coronavirus.
“We aren’t as a densely populated area compared to Los Angeles. The idea of cloth covering over the nose and mouth is to prevent any virus from being spread into the environment. So because we are not so intensely populated and we are already practicing social distancing, the most important areas would be grocery stores and pharmacies, or, for people that have essential jobs, going to work,” Dr. Ansorg said.
He also said it can be important for unexpected social situations in your neighborhood.
“If you’re walking in your neighborhood and you all of a sudden find yourself in a small crowd, which I hope you won’t, but potentially it’s a possibility that there are more people around than you expected and you can’t safely keep a distance, then wearing a mask is advised,” Dr. Ansorg said.
200,000 masks received by Cottage Health are unusable
Earlier this week, Cottage Health received 200,000 N95 masks from the California state cache.
Unfortunately, they can’t be put into action quite yet.
“While in the state inventory, the elastic strap has degraded over time and no longer functions. These masks are unusable in their current condition. Cottage has quickly begun exploring possibilities with manufacturing partners for potential repairs and will only use these masks if proven safe and usable for healthcare workers,” a news release said.
Cottage also offered update on its current hospital numbers:
- Cottage is caring for 138 patients; 235 beds remain available.
- Of the 138 patients, 10 patients are on ventilators; 50 ventilators remain available (adult, pediatric and neonatal ventilators).
- Of the 138 patients, 26 patients are in isolation for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Of the 26 patients in isolation, 9 patients are in critical care
- Cottage has collected 1,102 cumulative test samples: 56 resulted in positive, 824 resulted in negative, and 222 are pending.
Schools to remain closed for rest of academic year
While Tony Thurmond, the state’s superintendent, indicated that schools would keep their doors shuttered through the end of the school year, it became official on Thursday.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District sent out a release to parents saying that while in-person instruction had concluded, that distance learning had gone well and will continue.
“We have just finished our second day of distance learning and are pleased to report that many of our teachers, principals, students and families shared that the experience was positive and went well,” said Cary Matsuoka, SBUSD’s superintendent. “With support from our community partners, we are continuing to address connectivity and technology needs, so that all students have the appropriate tools to keep learning.”
Mr. Matsuoka did confirm that graduations at all levels would not “go forward as scheduled.”
“We will be exploring ideas for honoring these and other special events,” Mr. Matsuoka said.
City of Santa Barbara picnic sites closed
As city officials noticed more group activities at parks, the city of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department announced that it would be closing picnic areas and prohibiting group activities in any city park.
According to a news release, this includes “use of picnic areas, and is intended to help the public practice safe social distancing during the current statewide stay-at-home order. Park users must refrain from group activities in parks even with groups from the same household or fitness groups, though passive recreation such as walking or running as individuals or in pairs following the minimum 6-foot social distance requirement is allowed.”
The parks themselves continue to stay open during usual hours, which is 30 minutes after sunset, with the exception of three closed parks: Franceschi Park, Hilda McIntyre Ray Park and Skofield Park.
The announcement came on a day when First District Supervisor Das Williams also issued a warning to county residents: Be responsible or more closures are coming.
“We don’t want to live in a world where everyone has become a coronavirus enforcer, so this is my call to you: let’s be adults and take the recommended and required precautions. We are blessed in comparison with other communities that we can social distance at some of the most beautiful open spaces and beaches in the world, so let’s not blow it,” Mr. Williams said.
County needs volunteers
The county of Santa Barbara is searching for community members that would like to aid in various COVID-19 projects.
Depending on skill and knowledge, various assignments could include supporting emergency shelters, food distribution call centers, alternate medical care sites or other emerging needs.
Each volunteer is subject to a background check, as well as offering their name, date of birth, address, driver’s license or California ID number, and social security number.
If you are interested in helping, the volunteer registration form can be found at publichealthsbc.org/resources. You can also contact the volunteer center (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday) at 805-564-5782.
Goleta City Council goes virtual
Due to social-distancing guidelines and in an attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Goleta City Council meetings will go virtual starting at 5:30 p.m. on April 7, with the mayor, council members, city manager, city attorney and city staff all participating remotely.
The public can also participate virtually by sending a public comment on an agenda item to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your email must state that you’d like your comments “read into the record.”
You can also participate by phone after you email email@example.com to ask to be added to the speaker list, stating your name, phone number and what item you’d like to speak on.
The city is then instructing those people to call 866-580-6521 at 5:20 p.m. The participant passcode is 72295187#. The city asks that you mute your phone until you are called on to speak.
All City Council meetings can be seen on Channel 19 or via the city’s website at tinyurl.com/goletameetings.
“We look forward to the day where we can all be together again in council chambers for our City Council meetings, but until then we appreciate the coordination by our city clerk staff, information technology personnel, and audio/visual specialists to make these new virtual City Council meetings possible,” said Paula Perotte, Goleta’s mayor.
Lompoc receives shipment of N95 masks
The Lompoc Valley Medical Center offered an update on a plethora of topics, including the status of personal protection equipment and COVID-19 test results:
- Inventory of certain types of PPE is still low, so LVMC continues to conserve. However, earlier this week, LVMC received a significant shipment of the coveted N95 masks. LVMC was able to amend its masking policy and increase the use of N95 masks for the safety of patients and healthcare workers.
- To date, of the 98 tests initiated by LVMC, six are positive, 63 are negative, and 29 are still pending. Presently, in the hospital LVMC has one COVID-19 positive patient, and eight “rule-out” patients pending results.
- In order to minimize exposure to patients and healthcare workers, LVMC has established a COVID-19 wing within the medical-surgical unit. It is currently 10 beds, with the ability to expand.
- LVMC has the laboratory equipment necessary to do on-site testing with a 45-minute turnaround. LVMC is waiting for the vendor to install software and provide the testing supplies. LVMC also has on order from another vendor the rapid test kits which enable 15-minute turnaround time. Due to announced delays by both vendors, LVMC’s best estimate is that it will have these new testing capabilities sometime in May.
Santa Maria supports local hotels
In an effort to aid local hotels that are being hit hard by the pandemic, the city of Santa Maria announced Thursday that it will defer the due date for Transient Occupancy Tax for local hotels and motels for both March and April.
Payments must be made on or before June 30.
The city is requiring the hotel operators to sign an agreement that indicates they are electing to defer payments.
The city estimates that the deferred payments will total up to $200,000.
Santa Maria’s TOT revenue is roughly $3.3 million per year.
COVID-19, by the numbers
An update on the numbers for the state, national and worldwide cases:
- The overall number of cases worldwide eclipsed 1 million on Thursday, with the number sitting at 1,015,709 at press time.
- There have been 53,609 deaths worldwide.
- The United State represents 24.1% of the worldwide cases with 245,213. Italy is second at 115,242, with Spain third at 112,065. These three countries represent 46.5% of the overall cases.
- In California, there are now 11,175 confirmed cases, with more than 1,200 confirmed on Thursday.
- There have been 246 deaths in California, with 31 on Thursday. Los Angeles County leads the state with 80 deaths and 4,071 cases.