Nine people have been self-isolated by public health officials in Santa Barbara County as the county continues to monitor the coronavirus pandemic.
Though there have been no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus locally, health officials said Thursday night that a total of 61 people were previously monitored but the test results came back negative. In addition, the county has tested six individuals that are considered “persons under investigation,” said Paige Batson, deputy director for community health.
“What this means is individuals who have met certain criteria for testing,” Ms. Batson said during a press conference held at the County Administration Building. “We’re also pleased to say that those are negative.”
During Thursday’s press conference, county officials issued a declaration of a local health emergency and a health officer order for the postponement and cancellation of events, as well as a social distancing order. Effective immediately, gatherings of more than 250 people should be postponed or cancelled, smaller gatherings that do not allow social distancing of six feet per person should be cancelled and gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness should be limited to no more than 10 people.
The order applies to all “non-essential professional, social, and community gatherings regardless of their sponsor,” county officials said.
The guidance will remain in place through the end of March and will be revisited and reevaluated on a regular basis over the next few weeks. The local safety measures came following a day that saw several major cancellations throughout the country. Disneyland announced it would be closing for 30 days, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championships were scrapped, Major League Soccer suspended its season and Major League Baseball announced that Spring Training games have been cancelled and Opening Day has been pushed back at least two weeks.
“This is the time we must all act in the best interest of our community and work together to contain this virus,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Gregg Hart said from the board hearing room dais, as he sat at a distance from other local health professionals.
In every row of the board room, dozens of seats were marked off with orange signs and even media members in attendance were quickly required to adhere to the social distancing policy.
Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said that social distancing is “the most effective way to slow the spread of the disease” and urged the public to adhere to the policy to protect not just themselves but the county’s most vulnerable neighbors.
COVID-19 testing in Santa Barbara County has recently been expanded and now includes 17 labs in the state that are conducting tests, including San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties. In addition, two commercial labs – Quest and LabCorp — have recently started testing.
“While testing has been expanded, it’s important for everyone to know that there is still certain criteria that needs to be met for persons to be tested because we have to prioritize those who are at greater risk of having adverse outcomes,” Ms. Batson said. “Those individuals are those at-risk individuals that include individuals with chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. It also includes individuals that are over 60 years old, as well as prioritizing individuals that are in congregate settings, such as skilled-nursing facilities.
“Again, testing has been broadened, but we are still going to have capacity issues. The main point here is for everyone to understand that COVID testing is not necessarily going to be offered or provided upon request.”
Ms. Batson later explained that the coronavirus testing “isn’t one of those tests where an individual can simply go and say ‘I’d like to be tested.’
“Even though we expanded our testing capacity, it’s not going to be enough to support individuals wanting a test just because they want it. It’s growing and it’s subject to change, but also the demand… we anticipate that it’s going to increase.”
Restrictions are in place for assisted living and skilled-nursing facilities and county officials are working with senior service providers to make sure those who live alone are safe and that senior meals will continue even though facility activities have been limited.
Health officials reiterated Thursday night that local schools will continue to resume as normal and the health officer order does not include classroom activities. If a coronavirus case is confirmed locally, health officials would examine “the nuance of that case,” and determine whether it was travel related or community transmission before moving forward, said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
To that point, Dr. Ansorg said that if one school had a significant outbreak that county officials would consider closing the school.
“What we do recommend, however, is that all schools have a very robust epidemic plan in place,” he said. “Spreading out the children, having a staggered event at school and recess. And activities that are not mandatory should be cancelled.
“Daily routine school should continue because (closing them) has never been shown to be a very effective measure to stem an epidemic, and it would be an extra and significant burden on the parents.”
The county has 16 airborne infectious isolation rooms and officials have been in contact with local hospitals to augment their current ventilator equipment, officials said.
The County Jail also has negative pressure rooms that can be used for isolation if inmates begin showing symptoms, though it was unclear what type of measures the jail could take to enact social distancing, Ms. Batson said.
“As you could imagine, it would be difficult in the jail,” she said.
The county is planning to deploy at least 12 mobile hand-washing stations throughout the county, though further details were expected to be released today.
City and county government meetings are also expected to continue as planned, with social distancing practices in place, Mr. Hart said.
Social distancing is not applied to “essential public transportation, airport travel, or shopping at a store or mall,” nor does it apply to “dormitories and homeless encampments,” according to county officials.
For the latest information on the coronavirus, visit www.publichealthsbc.org or call the county’s COVID-19 call center at 833-688-5551.