There was good news to be had at Wednesday’s daily Santa Barbara County Public Health Department press conference — cases were down, scheduled surgeries are back in and antibody blood tests are now available locally.
But each came with a caveat.
Cases were down, but the 11 new confirmed COVID-19 cases were back in the community and not at the Lompoc federal prison, including eight in Santa Maria to give it a total of 109 to date. Only one — in Goleta — was in South County.
Gov. Gavin Newsom opened the door for elective and scheduled surgeries to be put back in play — potentially helping hospitals and other healthcare businesses to begin to recover financially — but also comes at a cost, as all patients will have to be tested for COVID-19 before checking into the hospital or facility. The county has struggled to find enough testing to date, although PHD Health Officerl Dr. Henning Ansorg felt that enough are becoming available to help the coming influx in activity at hospitals.
“Because of the hard work of Dr. (Stewart) Comer and his team, we have really ramped up our testing capabilities that we are easily able to provide those tests now,” Dr. Ansorg said.
Finally, after weeks of clamoring from politicians and residents alike, Quest Diagnostics opened up its labs to test locals with the antibody test, one that will indicate whether or not a person has already had the coronavirus. As staggering numbers came in from Los Angeles County due to this testing on Tuesday night, Dr. Stewart W. Comer was guarded in his optimism, pointing to the potential for false positives that make the data a bit unreliable.
“There is a tremendous amount of diversity of opinion on how best to use (the serology data),” Dr. Comer said. “I think probably the most important thing to understand is for acute rule out of COVID, you have to use the molecular test. So the purpose really of the serology test, or the antibody test, is really to establish who might have been infected prior to even potentially January or December.
“The problem with the testing is with a low prevalence of disease the false-positive rate is exceedingly high and that’s an issue. So if then somebody says, ‘Oh I’m positive for the antibody,’ and realizes that there’s a high likelihood of a false-positive, then the reality is that they don’t have immunity to COVID. The other question is, does immunity to the antibody, the positive antibodies, confer immunity to that?
“We know with seasonal coronavirus you end up losing that over the course of 12 months plus. But the question is that no one knows that and I don’t think anyone wants to test that out just yet. So the reality would be to be able to do that testing. So a lot of issues there.”
Meanwhile, Cottage Health announced that it has opened a testing site for scheduled appointments for the molecular test that has been in demand since mid-March.
According to a release, Cottage Health will “increase COVID-19 testing access for symptomatic individuals in the community, Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories (PDL) has established a designated location for COVID-19 testing of patients with provider referral. The site for test specimen collection is in the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital parking lot.”
Cottage also indicated other details on test access:
- Testing will be done by appointment only. Patients must receive a referral from their health care provider (physician or nurse practitioner).
- No walk-in patients will be accepted. Patients must have an order for the test before arriving at the site.
- The site is in a PDL tent in the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital parking lot (351 S. Patterson Ave.). Patients with appointments for COVID-19 testing should arrive at this outdoor site only. No other PDL locations are currently offering testing.
- Patients must wear a face mask to the site. In accordance with public health requirements, the patient and patient’s household members are required to isolate until a negative test result is received.
- Expected turnaround time for results is 24-72 hours. Patients who test positive will be notified by their primary care physician.
SBUSD will make decision on semester grading Thursday
Susan Salcido, the Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, joined the press conference on Wednesday, breaking down what the county is doing in preparation for the end of the school year virtually, as well as a peek at what it is to come in the fall.
A hot item for parents and students alike over the past two weeks is the idea of grading as the school year finishes out virtually. Ms. Salcido indicated that it would be left to the local school districts to make their own decisions, explaining that each district has different goals due to the types of schools within each one.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District will hold a special board meeting today to discuss a proposal on how students will be graded after schools closed on March 13.
According to a news release sent Wednesday afternoon, the board will consider the following:
Elementary schools: Will not issue report cards for Trimester 3 (June 2020) and instead focus on providing ongoing feedback on learning to students and families for 2019-2020.
Junior high schools: Junior high schools will operate under a credit/no credit policy for spring semester 2020.
Senior high schools: High schools will implement a Credit (CR)/No Credit (NC) grading system for spring semester/term with an option for letter grades if a student so chooses.
- The default standard is a credit/no credit grading environment for all students.
- Students may opt to earn a letter grade for individual courses.
On April 17, Santa Ynez High School chose to do the following, according to Principal Mark Swanitz:
“Students who had a passing grade—a D- or better—on their third quarter report card in a class, will be graded in that class on an A-D grading scale with no F’s. What this means is that no student who was passing a given course at the third quarter can fail that course at the semester. This does not mean that the third quarter grade is the final grade. A student’s grade for the class can go up or down within the A-D range based on his or her academic performance and engagement with online schooling. It just won’t drop below a D-.
“Students who were failing a class at the third quarter will be graded in that class on the traditional A-F grading scale and will need to improve their grades to passing and maintain them at the level of D- or above through the end of the semester to earn credit for the course.”
House set to vote on new stimulus plan
The House is set to vote on a $484 billion package of new relief funds today due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
H.R. 266, also known as the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act, passed the Senate Tuesday and will focus on funding for Small Business Administration loan programs, healthcare assistance and boosting the nation’s ability to test and trace the coronavirus, said Rep. Salud Carbajal while on a teleconference town hall Wednesday night.
The relief package provides $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, $75 billion in healthcare funding, which includes funds for personal protective equipment and emergency hospital funding, as well as $25 billion for testing and contact tracing of the novel virus.
The legislation comes on top of the $2 trillion package enacted last month. The SBA announced April 16 that it had run out of funding and stopped accepting applications.
Once that announcement was made, Rep. Carbajal issued a statement saying more needed to be done to help small businesses on the Central Coast and across the country.
“This is a pandemic and we cannot waste any more time on partisan politics,” Rep. Carbajal said. “In this time of crisis, Congress must come together and continue to support our local businesses, our hospitals, our communities, local governments and our frontline workers. We need action now.”
Cottage Health, by the numbers
A look at where Cottage Health stands through Wednesday:
- 147 are acute care patients; 226 acute care beds remain available.
- Of the 147 patients, 12 patients are on ventilators; 56 ventilators remain available (adult, pediatric and neonatal ventilators)
- Of the 147 patients, 17 are in isolation with COVID-19 symptoms; 9 are confirmed COVID-19 positive.
- Of 17 patients in isolation, 7 patients are in critical care.
- Cottage has collected 2,438 cumulative test samples: 182 resulted in positive, 2,149 resulted in negative, and 107 are pending. In most of these tests, patients did not require hospital admission.
COVID-19, by the numbers
A look at the nationwide and worldwide numbers
- In the United States, there are 849,092 confirmed cases with 47,681 deaths and 84,050 have fully recovered.
- Across the world, there are 2,628,929 confirmed cases with 183,441 deaths and 713,294 have fully recovered.