Editor’s note: The following is a commentary on the state of the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County
I’ve seen it.
I’ve seen the look of desperation.
I’ve seen the look of frustration.
I’ve seen the look of fear.
I’ve seen the look of confusion.
I’ve seen the look of mental anguish.
I’ve seen the look of someone that simply feels that the system doesn’t care.
That’s how it feels when, after three weeks, you can’t get a doctor to issue you a test to address whether or not you have contracted one of the most unexpected viruses to hit the world over the past 100 years, ticking nearly every box on the government-provided checklist.
That’s how it feels when you are charged $40 for a doctor’s note so that you can feed it to your employer, just hoping that it will stave off unemployment.
I’ve seen this look — and it’s unacceptable.
It’s hard to be told that you are not a priority, that you don’t fit into the essential portion of the entirely subjective tiered system that has been put into place in Santa Barbara County.
It’s given new meaning to “take two Tylenol, and call me in the morning.”
Unfortunately, nothing changes with that call.
Is it the fault of the doctor on the other end of that phone line? No, other than the bedside manner that should be commonplace, pandemic or no pandemic.
Is it the fault of Santa Barbara County? Not necessarily, they can only request what they can request, even if they should be far more aggressive in protecting us.
But the optics continue to call into question who is really getting these tests.
How are Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson getting tested? What about the NBA’s Rudy Gobert or the NFL’s Sean Payton?
Or the Prince of Monaco, or Colton Underwood of the Bachelor? Or, locally, how are Jackson Browne or P!nk getting tested?
As a refresher, Tier 1 is defined as the elderly — which includes those in senior residential communities and assisted living facilities — that run a fever of at least 101 degrees or show shortness of breath; healthcare workforce, as well as agencies such as fire, police and emergency transport workers (“It’s not because they are better people, it’s because we really rely on their services,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s health officer); and, finally, severely ill people that need to be isolated in negative pressure rooms, where test results can help alleviate shortage of these rooms.
So, exactly how are celebrities getting access?
Is it money? Is it fame? Is it because we need spokespeople that will put more focus on the coronavirus?
Because, if that’s the case, I don’t think the virus needs more headlines — it’s grabbing pretty much every, single one.
Am I begrudging these humans for getting tested? Absolutely not.
But since when has medical care become subjective?
Since when does paying insurance premiums mean that you cannot get the care that you need?
What if non-essentials simply stated that paying these bills didn’t fit into their top tier, would that fly? No way.
So many are arguing that this virus is no worse than the flu, and the world doesn’t shut down for the flu.
And, they’re right. It doesn’t.
But what does the flu have that COVID-19 doesn’t? Testing for those who need it.
And antiviral drugs to combat it, such as Tamiflu or Relenza.
The element of the unknown is eliminated with the flu — while you feel horrible, there is an answer.
That is mentally freeing — allowing people to think straight when stay-at-home mandates come down or finding ways to help their neighbors with a clear head.
It creates calm.
Right now, unless you sit in Tier 1, it is complete chaos.
Suddenly, we are the land of the not-so-free, and stay home if you’re brave.
A local nurse admitted that when patients call in now, there is little consideration to bring them in for testing, usually just telling the person to rest and wait it out.
So either you have to be an essential human or be at death’s door to get attention?
I’ve heard it over and over, “assume that you have COVID-19.”
Do medical professionals understand how dangerous this is?
Staying at home for two weeks doesn’t mean you don’t have it. Not when studies have shown that the virus has stuck around on surfaces for 30-plus days, or that it can take nearly as long for patients to be symptomatic.
Testing is the only way to provide objectivity.
Either you have it or you don’t.
And the lack of testing isn’t just relevant here on the South Coast, it’s nationwide.
According to President Trump, there have been 1.1 million tests (including more than 1,000 in Santa Barbara County) conducted in the United States as of March 31. That’s an average of 1 test per 297 people.
In South Korea, where death has been minimized and the country inches back toward normalcy, testing has occurred in 1 per 124 people.
That’s a dramatic difference.
In South Korea, there have been a total of 177 deaths. There have been more than that in Bergen, N.J., alone, with the U.S. death total now more than 7,000, including 319 in California.
South Korea adopted a similar “suppression” approach to the virus as the United States, according to a study published by the COVID-19 Response Team at Imperial College in the United Kingdom. It called for staying indoors and social distancing, with the goal to “reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely,” according to the study.
But they did test at a more than 2-to-1 rate to the U.S.
Dr. Ansorg said on Thursday: “I think if we were able to test more, we’d have way more cases, honestly.”
And this is supposed to make us feel better?
That’s like dangling a carrot in front of a bunch of rabbits and sprinting away.
What we are ignoring — because we seemingly don’t want to face them — are facts.
Not what your brother’s wife’s cousin said on Facebook, but what experts on infectious diseases have to say.
The people that will put on the mask, the gloves, the goggles — if supplies last — and walk into a room to treat someone that has this contagion that we call the coronavirus.
The virus that has now killed 64,606 people worldwide according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
- Fact No. 1: The Lancet Medical Journal published in late March noted that the coronavirus has been proven to live in the respiratory tracts of some patients for up to five weeks — prolonging the incubation period that could cause the spread of the virus from individual to individual. The study looked at 191 individuals that had the virus in China (137 lived, 54 died), with COVID-19 living for a minimum of eight days in the respiratory tract and as long as 37 days. The study was authored by 19 doctors.
- Fact No. 2: One of the biggest obstacles in trying to harness COVID-19 has been trying to overcome the constant comparisons between the flu and coronavirus. Many see the overall number of deaths due to the flu and take coronavirus less seriously. But, the data says otherwise. According to data from the CDC, WHO and NCBI, the incubation time for the common flu is 1-4 days; while with coronavirus it is 1-14 days (and growing). This allows for a longer period of time for someone that is infected to not feel symptoms, putting others at risk. The hospitalization rate for the flu is 2%, while COVID-19 is 19%. Finally, the mortality rate for the flu is 0.1% or less, while it is 1-3.4% with the coronavirus. Bottom line, both the flu and coronavirus are killers, but we are still learning how to combat the latter.
On Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated that he was putting a task force together to research why more testing has been done throughout California.
How about this, Mr. Governor . . . stop wasting time and money on task forces, and simply demand that instead of weeks for rapid-testing technology to be installed at places like Lompoc Valley Medical Center, it only takes hours? How about not allowing negotiations or paperwork get in the way of thousands more sitting around waiting to be tested?
Because, Mr. Governor, if you needed a test tomorrow, you’d get one. You’re essential.
Thousands of non-essentials don’t have that power.
I’ve seen it.
HERO: ORCUTT BAKERY & LVMC
The Lompoc Valley Medical Center is preparing for an onslaught of cases — 12 were announced on Saturday — and are going a million miles a minute.
Enter the Oructt Bakery who gave the staff a bit of a sugar rush with a shipment of their cupcakes and other goodies.
The spread was so big that you could read the smiles behind the mandatory masks through everyone’s eyes.
Kudos to the bakery for their sweet pick-me-up, as well as to the medical personnel at the hospital taking on the pandemic each and every day.
ZERO: Time to move at warp speed, Santa Barbara County
The first part of this segment is actually a hero nod — as the North County has found a way to utilize Santa Maria High School to aid the homeless during a time where facilities are taking on fewer displaced people due to social-distancing rules.
But, when you travel down Highway 101, the South County hasn’t seemingly caught up.
Prior to COVID-19, we’ve been a part of many discussions about transient issues, but the rules have changed with the onset of the pandemic.
We are all under a stay-at-home mandate, something that seemingly can’t apply to transients. They are reliant on homes to take them in, and now there are less beds.
So, during a time when we are asking people to be indoors, we are pushing more transients outdoors, potentially to get sick.
Local homeless advocate Peter Marin has been banging that drum with county officials, seemingly to no avail.
After questioning new guidelines on how the county will help the homeless in the South County, he received a set of links to CDC guidance and PHD resources, as well as this from Kimberlee Albers, the county’s homeless assistance program manager:
“I am keenly aware that these links will probably frustrate you. They are not enough. We are hard at work to develop more capacity to shelter. A primary barrier to moving forward has been getting permission for use of appropriate sites, this includes both a gymnasium/ hall structure in South County with showers and hotel/motels. Any influence to obtain use of sites would be much appreciated.”
While Mr. Marin did tell Ms. Albers that he understands that she is not ultimately responsible, he brought up points that need to be addressed by someone:
- “What about, for instance, the drifting homeless who may need emergency rooms?”
- “Will there be supplements to disability when the monthly checks run out?”
- “What about the Foodbank for people, remember, who lack kitchens, tables, fridges or storage?”
- “Will bathrooms ordinarily closed at night be kept open for 24 hours?”
- “What about those already ill? Anywhere special to avoid the weather?”
- “Why not distribute tents?”
- “What about access to washing-machines to clean clothes?”
So, here is the influence that Ms. Albers was asking for — there needs to be a fix, and now.
We are encouraging those who have homes to stay in them.
Can’t we find a solution to make sure that this oversight doesn’t destroy all of that work?
Will a school — university, community college, high school, middle school — please step up?
Every inch of work we do now is one more inch toward recovery.
HERO: What a Sweet 16
In these times, our community is being called upon to be brave and innovative, to band together yet again to overcome an incredible obstacle.
But that’s the big picture, and sometimes it takes looking at the micro vs. the macro to really see that our community is indeed special.
On Friday night, I received a video from a dear friend, Deanna, showing more than 30 cars lined up around the block.
No, she wasn’t selling toilet paper out of her garage.
They were all holding signs and honking their horns.
“Happy Sweet 16, Katy!”
“Happy birthday, Katy!”
“We love you, Katy!”
Katy Caballero, Deanna’s daughter, spent her 16th birthday locked up in her home alongside her parents and younger brother.
No complaints, knowing that the world would find a way to show the San Marcos High sophomore some love.
And it came out in droves.
The look on Katy’s face as one car after another drove by, throwing her all the love that social distancing would allow, was priceless.
It was a mom’s way of making sure Katy felt special on her special day.
It was a family sharing an experience with the world, seemingly washing away the negativity, even if just for a moment.
It was creating a memory that will never be forgotten.
It was positive out of negative.