After waiting days for confirmation, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced the first positive case of coronavirus on Sunday afternoon, indicating that a North County resident in their 60s is under home isolation until cleared by a public health officer.
According to the news release, the PHD will now work to “identify persons who may have had close contact with this person, including friends, family members, or health care professionals. PHD will monitor them and take appropriate measures, including testing for infection, if needed.”
The person has no known history of travel within or outside of the U.S. over the past six weeks, with the release stating that it is believed to be a “community transmission.”
While rumors were rampant online as to the location of this patient, officials would not indicate where the person was specifically located.
“Our Disease Control & Prevention team has been taking an aggressive approach to trace contacts that this person had. If our team determines there are additional measures the public can take to protect themselves, we will alert them immediately,” said Jackeline Ruiz, public information officer for the SBCPHD.
While both San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties have reported positive cases over the past week, Santa Barbara lagged behind as testing had to be sent outside of county lines.
“The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has been actively preparing to ensure that we have a structure in place to effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our county,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Health Officer for Santa Barbara County. “At this time we are mandating social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus. All large nonessential professional, social, and community gatherings should be postponed or cancelled, and smaller gatherings should be modified to allow for at least six feet of space between participants.”
Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Das Williams released a statement early Sunday, indicating that the expectation is that there will be more positive results in the coming days.
“We have been made aware of the case due to an increase in our testing criteria and because we are testing more, it is likely that we will see an increase in more confirmed cases. This is a good thing – so that we know who has it and who does not and we can properly quarantine those who have it,” Mr. Williams said.
“I have been working closely with our County Public Health to increase our testing capability and criteria. As of the most recent update, 15 people have been tested. We know at least 6 of those are negative, this one is positive, and we are awaiting the results of others.”
Not only is growth expected locally, the nationwide numbers continued to grow on Sunday, including 335 reported cases in California, a 14% increase from Saturday, including six deaths.
“The worst is yet ahead for us,” said Anthony Fauci, the Trump administration’s infectious diseases expert.
Gov. Newsom takes a stand
Early Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom elevated the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, calling for the closure of bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs, as well as urging people over 65 and those with chronic illness to stay in their homes.
Gov. Newsom also called for more social distancing at restaurants, making sure tables are six feet apart and reducing occupancy.
“We recognize that social isolation for millions of Californians is anxiety inducing but we recognize what all the science bears out and — we need to meet this moment head-on and lean in,” Gov. Newsom said.
As of Sunday, there were 335 reported cases in California, a 14% increase from Saturday. There have been six deaths, the latest in San Mateo County, where 32 cases have been recorded.
Los Angeles County reported 15 new cases on Sunday, five of which are hospitalized.
Late Sunday, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti called for the closure of all bars and nightclubs in L.A., also mandating that restaurants must stop dine-in experiences and move to takeout order through March 31. The measures took effect at midnight Sunday.
While Santa Barbara County has not taken the same action to date, Santa Barbara mayor Cathy Murillo does worry about the well-being of the area’s small businesses.
“At my home, we eat 50% at home and 50% out,” Ms. Murillo said. “I hope that our residents abide by the social distancing, or if they don’t want to go out, that they order in. Or buy a gift card, even if you’re not going to use it. That money helps keep our local businesses alive.”
Rep. Salud Carbajal of the 24th District held out hope that there is help on the way due to a bipartisan bill to allocate $8.3 billion to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Also, a bill passed this past week will allow for “free coronavirus testing for all who need it, including the uninsured; establish an emergency paid leave program; strengthen food assistance, school meals, senior nutrition and food banks; enhance unemployment aid; safeguard Medicaid; and stand up for those most vulnerable. The Senate is expected to consider that bill this week.”
CDC offers new recommendations
On Sunday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled new recommendations, including that events of 50 or more people should not be held in the United States for the next eight weeks.
On its website, the CDC says organizers should either cancel or postpone in-person events.
The advisory doesn’t apply to day-to-day operations of businesses or schools, although most have already done so, much like schools throughout Santa Barbara County that will close starting Monday.
The CDC’s move is an attempt at “flattening the curve” or the virus that is growing by the day worldwide.
“This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus,” the CDC said.
According to the CDC, the types of events that should be avoided include festivals, parades, concerts, weddings and sporting events.
What about the schools?
Today, Santa Barbara County will begin to shut down schools, with the Santa Barbara Unified School District set to at least be out of session until April 6.
The school district intended to have teachers report to work on Monday and Tuesday, but sent a message on Sunday night telling them to stay home and monitor email closely instead. According to the district, staff met over the weekend and determined that the Governor’s recommendations on Sunday caused the course change.
At the higher education level, Westmont College will return from its Spring Recess today, but has moved to remote instruction only. UCSB announced on Saturday that it would extend its remote instruction through the entire spring quarter, while also encouraging those that can return home, to do so in the near future.
At SBCC, school president Dr. Utpal Goswami announced that employees would work remotely from March 16-29, with food services and the campus store shutting down during that time.
The school announced that it would be transitioning credit instruction to online only immediately. In-person lab instruction is suspended until March 30. According to Dr. Goswami, “if a lab course is not online by March 30, the lab course will be canceled.” The same applies to SBCC’s School of Extended Learning.
The school’s Spring Break is scheduled for March 23-29.
“This transition will not be without difficulties and will likely also have unintended consequences. I urge your patience and understanding as we work through uncharted waters. Please contact your instructor and instructional officials with questions regarding courses,” Dr. Goswami said.
With the case related to North County, Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria released the following statement about safety for its students:
“Allan Hancock College is aware that the first positive case of a COVID-19 infection has been confirmed in Northern Santa Barbara County. This week is Spring Break, with faculty and students not attending. This keeps the campus population to a minimum as the population will be made up of staff and administrators.
“Two weeks ago, college administrators, faculty and staff began planning for alternate instruction modalities in anticipation of this event. Tomorrow (March 16), college administrators will be joined by student, faculty and staff leaders to finalize plans for the coming weeks.
“We remain committed to following the guidance of federal, state and county health agencies as our primary means of protecting the health of our students, faculty and staff. Last week, following the announcement of K-12 closures, the college shared with staff that necessity leaves for child care, family care, or self-care will be approved.”
How will the city of Santa Barbara try to help?
Admittedly, Ms. Murillo faced a whirlwind day, starting her day at the St. George Community Center, where she was greeted by a number of people that will face logistical obstacles as coronavirus sets into people’s daily lives.
As small and big businesses alike are confronted with having to cut back hours or close their doors, the everyday worker will be affected, with some concerned about being able to pay rent during what is quickly becoming a shutdown of the United States.
Ms. Murillo says that the Santa Barbara City Council will be taking up an ordinance that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants — at least temporarily.
“We are considering an ordinance to prevent evictions during the virus restrictions. I don’t think we’re going to be able to talk about that on Tuesday, but it would be an emergency ordinance anyway,” said Ms. Murillo.
She understands that this won’t necessarily help those with mortgages.
On Sunday, the Federal Reserve did slash interest rates to nearly zero, taking an aggressive tactic to help stave off coronavirus’ impact on markets, also indicating it would buy upwards of $700 billion of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities.
The rate will be the same as it was seven years ago until December 2015 because of the recession.
In addition to federal movement, there are nonprofits looking to align themselves to aid those in Santa Barbara County with financial aid.
The Santa Barbara Foundation and the United Way of Santa Barbara County announced a joint partnership on Friday that is intended to “provide financial support to address the needs of individuals and families in Santa Barbara County as well as the nonprofits who serve them.”
The partnership will allow the two organizations to coordinate funds and more “rapidly meet the needs of our community.”
The Santa Barbara Foundation will be hosting local organizations by topic in order to support the nonprofit community, including a Tuesday webinar for human resources and legal teams; a Wednesday business continuity planning session; and a Thursday webinar called “ThinkHR COVID-19 guidance and best practices.”
You can find more information at sbfoundation.org.
How are the hospitals holding up?
Late Sunday evening, Dignity Health Central Coast announced that it had new restrictions due to “significant flu-like activity” in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Effectively immediately at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital (AGCH), French Hospital Medical Center (FHMC) and Marian Regional Medical Center (MRMC), the following visitor restrictions have been put into place:
- All visitors must be 16 years of age or older.
- Only one visitor per patient per day is allowed in the hospital.
- Patients and visitors may only enter through the hospital main entrance or the Emergency Department. All other entrances are currently employee-access only.
- At MRMC, visitors are currently not permitted at Marian Extended Care Center (MECC).