With sweltering and record-breaking heat enveloping Santa Barbara County, there were two distinctly different messages coming from county officials on Friday afternoon.
On one hand, a new Health Officer Order clarified certain essential businesses may open with modified operations and social-distancing protocols — including recreational activities such as golfing and tennis, as well as the opportunity for faith-based organizations to function.
Just an hour before the order, the county sent out a stern warning about congregating at the county’s beaches, parks and vehicle access trails, threatening to shut them down if crowds became too large or people were not abiding by the state’s social-distancing mandate.
“The County is appreciative that the community visits local parks responsibly. However, as the days become warmer more people are visiting beaches and parks, staying longer, and violating social distancing and guidelines about congregating,” a news release said. “Park staff will be monitoring its parks regularly and will close parking and vehicle access if parks become too crowded. Parks with vehicular access closures may remain open provided visitors practice safe, physical distancing of 6 feet or more.”
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart indicated at a Friday press conference that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and other county officials would be patrolling beaches and parks to heed warnings to those not abiding by the rules, and also assessing whether it had gotten out of control.
“They will be monitoring the situation and intervening and encouraging people to keep their distance, keep their social distance away from each other, and still enjoy the recreational opportunities,” Mr. Hart said. “We’ve been fortunate that community members have been respecting the guidance that we’ve given the community. And generally people are following that advice and are using caution.”
According to the National Weather Service, Santa Barbara can expect to stay in the 80s this weekend, calling for a high of 83 today, 82 on Sunday and 84 on Monday. None are expected to eclipse long-standing records after Wednesday and Thursday brought record-breaking heat to the area.
The NWS also indicated that “from Saturday through Monday, there will continue to be some weak northerly offshore gradients which will generate some locally gusty northerly winds each afternoon across southern Santa Barbara County (around the Gaviota and Refugio areas). Otherwise, weak onshore flow will prevail in the afternoon and evening hours. So, will expect the usual southwesterly/onshore breezes Saturday through Monday. None of these winds are expected to approach advisory levels.”
Mr. Hart reminded residents that there are a plethora of options when it comes to the beach, and if one is close to overcrowding, find another.
“There are many, many miles of beaches available in Santa Barbara County where folks can go and recreate, and maintain social distance. We are going to monitor the situation and as circumstances change, we are going to have to adapt to them,” Mr. Hart said. “But right now we are hoping folks are going to do the right thing and protect each other.”
New Health Officer Order clarifies allowed recreational activities
While Mr. Hart was explicit in that the new Health Officer Order simply clarifies what was already possible under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, it nonetheless presented the opportunity for some businesses, such as golf courses, to re-open their doors.
The Health Officer Order began Friday and extends through May 31, 2020, although officials warned that it could be amended at any time if public health is at risk.
The new order comes with required social-distancing protocols:
“Essential businesses shall implement a social distancing protocol. Social distancing is maintaining at least a 6-foot distance from all individuals who are not part of the same household or living unit; and not gathering in groups. Exception is permitted when closer contact is required for fire, law enforcement, first responders, childcare, adult or senior care, care to individuals with special needs, and patient care.
“Essential businesses must prepare and post a ‘Social Distancing Protocol’ for each facility frequented by the public or employees. The Protocol must be posted at or near the facility entrance and be easily viewable by the public and employees. It is required that each business designates an employee to monitor and enforce compliance with the Protocol at all times the business is open to the public. Essential Businesses shall provide evidence of its implementation to any authority enforcing the Order upon demand.”
The Social Distancing Protocol must include the following elements:
- Limit the number of persons who can enter into a facility and work areas, and maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another at all times.
- Establish a protocol for how lines may form, ensuring a minimum of six feet distancing between individuals.
- Provide for hand sanitizer, soap and water, or other effective disinfectant at or near the entrance of the facility and in other appropriate areas for use by the public and employees and in locations where there is high-frequency employee interaction with the public such as cashier stations.
- Provide for contactless payment systems or, if not feasible, institute a process to disinfect all payment portals, keypads, pens, and styluses after each use for the next customer.
- Regularly scheduled cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces.
- Post signage at the entrance of the facility and work area informing the public and employees that they should avoid entering the facility if they have a cough or fever and must maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another; sneeze and cough into their elbow; and not shake hands or engage in unnecessary physical contact.
- Outline of any other additional social distancing measures being implemented.
With the county’s COVID-19 numbers showing a downward trend in terms of overall cases and those hospitalized, County Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso pointed to this as a reason for clarifying the county’s orders.
“What we saw was that even though the cases were increasing, they were slowly increasing, but the percentage of growth from day to day was on a downward trend,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “So that was really encouraging.”
A sixth death as daily numbers continue to drop
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced a sixth COVID-19-related death on Friday, indicating the person in their 60s with underlying health conditions had died in Lompoc.
To date, five of the deaths have occurred in North County.
Dr. Henning Ansorg clarified that three of the sixth deaths can directly be attributed to COVID-19, while the remaining three have been classified this way, although the physician could have attributed it to other causes due to severe underlying health conditions.
“It is a very tricky determination often for a physical to give the cause of death exactly, especially if the patient has comorbidities,” Dr. Ansorg said.
For the day, nine new confirmed cases were added to the county’s total, which is now at 460. Eight of the nine cases were in the North County, although none at the Lompoc federal prison, where an outbreak has infected 101 inmates.
After back-to-back days of 11 cases on Wednesday and Thursday, the nine cases continued to show a slowing trend, although the same cannot be said for healthcare workers, a group that has grown to 58.
Dr. Ansorg says this number is a key factor in determining the county’s next phase.
“There’s always a concern if numbers go up,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Having said that, our testing capabilities have increased to a degree that we do pick up more positive cases. Now healthcare workers are at the forefront and they’re exposed much more than other folks, obviously. It’s one number that we closely monitor because we do want to see leveling off or decrease so that a new case of a healthcare worker will be a rare occasion. It’s one of the many requirements that will guide us in decision-making toward the next phase of re-opening.”
Cottage Health, by the numbers
A look at Cottage Health through Friday:
- Cottage Health is caring for a total of 192 patients across all campuses.
- 144 are acute care patients; 229 acute care beds remain available.
- Of the 144 patients, 11 patients are on ventilators; 59 ventilators remain available (adult, pediatric and neonatal ventilators)
- Of the 144 patients, 17 are in isolation with COVID-19 symptoms; 6 are confirmed COVID-19 positive.
- Of 17 patients in isolation, 8 patients are in critical care.
- Cottage has collected 2,669 cumulative test samples: 193 resulted in positive, 2,335 resulted in negative, and 141 are pending. In most of these tests, patients did not require hospital admission.
Lompoc Valley update
Lompoc Valley Medical Center CEO Steve Popkin offered up the following update to the community:
- From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, LVMC has had only three COVID-19 positive inpatient admissions originating from the general Lompoc Valley Community. Of those three, there were none that required ICU care, and there have been no deaths. Presently, we have no COVID-19 positive inpatients from the general Lompoc Valley Community.
- Based upon data publicly reported by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, and applying population data, the Lompoc Valley Community has a higher per capita incidence of COVID-19 positive test results than Santa Barbara County overall. Excluding the Federal Correctional Complex, Lompoc Valley has 1 positive test result per 825 population, versus 1 per 1,309 population for Santa Barbara County overall. These figures include individuals who have since recovered and are not presently considered to be COVID-19 positive.
Although the per capita incidence of COVID-19 positive is higher in the Lompoc Valley Community, to me, that is not a very meaningful figure. The number of COVID-19 tests performed in each geographical area varies and is not publicly reported, and the testing practices employed at each medical facility vary throughout the County. Both of these factors impact the incidence rate, making comparison difficult.
To me, the most relevant data is the per capita rate of COVID-19 positive that has resulted in hospitalization and/or death. Please consider the following facts:
- The number of individuals within Santa Barbara County who are COVID-19 positive and are currently hospitalized is 30 (excluding inmates from the FCC). This equates to 1 hospitalized patient per 14,900 population. There are currently no residents of the Lompoc Valley Community who are COVID-19 positive and hospitalized.
- There have been 4 COVID-19 related deaths in Santa Barbara County (excluding inmates from the FCC). This equates to one death per 111,750 population. There have been no COVID-19 related deaths among residents of the Lompoc Valley Community.
- You may have seen media reports about a “field hospital” for low and medium acuity patients being established on the FCC premises. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, LVMC, and the other area hospitals, are in regular communication with FCC leadership regarding this initiative, and other matters related to coordinating our COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Although the publicly reported data from the Bureau of Prisons and Santa Barbara Public Health Department show an increasing number of COVID-19 positive inmates, the number of inmates currently receiving hospital care, and the number of new hospital admissions, has reduced significantly from its recent peak. We are hopeful that this trend continues, but we are prepared if it does not.
Trump signs off on funds to resume PPP
A day after the House passed a bill to add some $310 billion back into the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, President Donald Trump officially signed it into law Friday, as well as the Health Care Enhancement Act.
SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin issued a statement to indicate when small businesses could begin to apply again.
“The Small Business Administration will resume accepting PPP loan applications on Monday, April 27 at 10:30AM EDT from approved lenders on behalf of any eligible borrower. This will ensure that SBA has properly coded the system to account for changes made by the legislation. The PPP has supported more than 1.66 million small businesses and protected over 30 million jobs for hardworking Americans. With the additional funds appropriated by Congress, tens of millions of additional workers will benefit from this critical relief.
“We encourage all approved lenders to process loan applications previously submitted by eligible borrowers and disburse funds expeditiously. All eligible borrowers who need these funds should work with an approved lender to apply. Borrowers should carefully review PPP regulations and guidance and the certifications required to obtain a loan.”
COVID-19, by the numbers
A look at nationwide and worldwide numbers through Friday:
- In the United States, there are 925,038 confirmed cases, with 52,185 deaths (26.6% of worldwide deaths) and 110,432 fully recovered (14.1% of worldwide recoveries).
- Across the world, there are 2,790,986 cases, with 195,920 deaths and 781,382 have fully recovered.