Santa Maria struggles to stop the spread of COVID-19
Community-wide concern and calls for action to stop the spread of COVID-19 were present at the Santa Maria City Council meeting on Monday.
Santa Maria is the coronavirus hotspot in Santa Barbara County, with 1572 confirmed positive cases as of Wednesday.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 73 new cases on Wednesday, along with 1331 recovered patients, 226 active cases and 16 deaths in Santa Maria.
Santa Barbara County gained 121 cases total on Wednesday: 2 in the communities of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria; 11 in Santa Barbara; 4 in Goleta; 0 in Isla Vista; 1 in the area of Goleta Valley and Gaviota; 1 in the Santa Ynez Valley; 5 in Lompoc; 0 from the federal prison in Lompoc; 4 from Orcutt; and 9 in the areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe.
There are now 3808 total cases in Santa Barbara County; 3335 total have recovered; 29 have died; and there are still 444 active cases in the county.
The director of the county Public Health Department, Van Do-Reynoso, attended the city council meeting to present statistics, the county’s current outreach efforts and recommendations from the department for the city of Santa Maria.
Ms. Do-Reynoso reported that in comparison to COVID-19 cases in other parts of the county, Latinos/Hispanics in Santa Maria represent a disproportionately higher number of cases. Santa Maria cases also have a higher percentage of household sizes between four and seven individuals and have more cases with individuals who are uninsured.
The Public Health Department initiated the following partnerships to combat the spread in Santa Maria: a partnership to increase health insurance coverage and access to healthcare, a partnership to increase preventative messaging and a partnership with employers on preventative measures.
They are also conducting the following outreach efforts: Latinx and Indigenous migrant COVID-19 response task force, Black American and Asian American community outreach, Ag sector meetings and focused community testing.
In addition, the Public Health Department recommends the coordination of services and efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (including a work group to develop strategies and city, county and community partnerships to leverage resources and capacity) and education and enforcement activities.
One of the primary issues residents of Santa Maria brought forward in public comment was that of the outbreaks within the agricultural industry. More than 20% of cases in Santa Maria are agricultural workers.
“I’ve been alarmed by the growing number of cases here,” said Hazel Davalos, one of the callers. “We fear things could get much worse, especially for farm workers, if the county and city don’t act quickly.”
Kate Adams, another caller, said she doesn’t feel the Santa Maria community is “all in this together.”
“I think that some of us, more than others, are in it,” she said. “I fear the largest group of front- line workers in our city, ag workers, have been left behind.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Santa Maria resident Leslie McGorman.
“I think as well as most people who are attending the meeting tonight, I am alarmed by the ever-increasing number of cases and the seeming inaction of it,” she said. “If you cannot find the compassion to save the lives of the people you represent, then at least find the urgency to save this community from total collapse.”
Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, said that because the county and city cannot control what farmers do after hours in terms of social distancing and mask wearing, employers must strictly enforce COVID-19 requirements in order to lessen the workplace spread, thereby lessening the community spread.
That being said, Ms. Do-Reynoso said the Public Health Department is calling for code enforcement as well as law enforcement to step in, as she believes there’s plenty of education and messaging available and being sent out. She added that Santa Barbara County developed a COVID-19 complaint form, where individuals can report the alleged violation of a business, along with the address and name of the industry.
Sue Anderson, the president and CEO of Marian Regional Medical Center, also attended the meeting, and said that as of right now, the center is in “good shape” and “able to take care of patients,” but they will struggle to keep up if the spread continues to worsen.
“Our physicians feel in this area, herd immunity would be very difficult to get,” she said. “We’re better off here trying to prevent giving it to each other. We’d be in a lot better shape if we can get the curve going down again.”
She added that it’s important to note the death rate remains low, and those deaths are related to nursing home outbreaks.
“We’re not seeing the number of ICU patients comparable to the beginning,” Ms. Anderson said. “We have a lot more people that are not on ventilators than the beginning. We’ve gotten more and more information across the county on treating this.”
Councilmember Michael Moats suggested a method called “pool testing,” which involves taking a group of around 10 people and taking swab tests from each one of them. Then, the healthcare workers can combine all 10 swabs for just one test.
If the test comes back negative, then all ten individuals are COVID-19 free. If it comes back positive, each individual must be tested, but the overall process would save time and money, according to Dr. Moats.
At the end of the meeting, City Council member Gloria Soto called on the city and the council to set aside jurisdiction complexities.
“I understand and hear the frustration that we have as to what agency has what jurisdiction to do what to protect our residents, but I think that in this pivotal moment in time, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are we going to do to stop the spread of COVID-19?’” she said. “It’s fundamental that we engage in a massive media campaign across the county and address the real fears and concerns people have when it comes to access to healthcare, deportation, housing and when it comes to income and people not being able to provide for their family. Are we going to let this city burn because no one is allowed to step in?”
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino also concluded with a statement.
“We all know we need to do something about housing and how to deal with it in the future,” the mayor said. “This is a whole new ball game and there are many issues involved in this.”