County officials expect to learn the fate of the nine pending COVID-19 tests at some point in the near future, while questions loom regarding the county’s capacity and expediency to test for the novel coronavirus.
As of Saturday night, the county still had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, though county officials have stressed it is more a matter of when than if a county resident were to test positive.
A total of 15 people have been tested thus far, including six that have returned with negative results, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
There are no public health labs in Santa Barbara County that are capable of testing for COVID-19, though county officials are continuing to evaluate the capacity of local labs. For now, local doctors are able to collect specimen for testing and the specimen are sent out of the county, said Jackie Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
“Local providers and doctors have supplies to collect specimen, which is different than the testing kits,” Ms. Ruiz told the News-Press. “At this time, doctors have access to supplies and if they don’t they can make a request to the public health department or operations center for those supplies.”
County officials are “evaluating” how much specimen can be collected throughout the county, though “that doesn’t mean testing isn’t available,” Ms. Ruiz said.
A source inside the medical community who spoke to the News-Press by phone on Saturday said, to his knowledge, that individual local doctors are unable to order their own testing while the county is ordering testing at a limited capacity.
“If you don’t look for something, how do you find it?” the source asked.
“I think we all wish we had the capability of doing it,” the source added. “I don’t think that bringing people into an office is the way to do the test. In a sense, it’s probably better for the public health if the testing sites were sort of independent from doctor’s offices and if you needed to order it you could.
“I doubt that they’re not doing it because they don’t want to.”
Ms. Ruiz said that a person is able to go to their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms, though patients are recommended to call ahead to prevent exposure.
“Doctors are being very judicious with the testing supplies that are available,” she said. “They are prioritizing older adults, people with underlying medical conditions and people who live in congregate settings.”
County officials said it takes roughly 24 hours to get test results back. If a person tests positive, it is considered a “presumptive positive” and the results are sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. The confirmation process can take “a few days,” Ms. Ruiz said.
The source told the News-Press that what makes COVID-19 different than other viruses is that no one is immune to the coronavirus.
“If you have been around in the past, you probably have some exposure to the flu. Even if you’ve never had a flu shot you probably have some immunity that you’ve picked up,” the source said. “If you call me and say ‘I’ve got fevers and body aches that started’ I probably can get you some Tamiflu in a few hours and I can get your close contacts on Tamiflu too, so not only do I reduce how severe your flu is, but I can probably protect all the people around you.
“If we didn’t have any of those things, we would probably have yearly flu issues and it would be like the H1N1 year where nobody had real protection against it because it was a new strain,” the source said. “Somehow they were able to get that vaccine rolled out in the same season, which still was incredible to me and it gives me a little bit of hope that they’ll be able to do something similar with this if we can just sort of buy some time with it.
“I think everyone’s immune system is just like blank for this.”
Health officials have been working diligently throughout the country to protect “medically fragile people,” or those 60 or older, the source said.
“Somebody young might be like ‘why am I doing this? I’m going to be sick and get better,’ but I think really you have to think of it as the whole community is trying to pitch in to save this whole older generation of seniors and grandparents,” the source said. “I think you can make the case for people to have a little bit of empathy and realize ‘okay, I’m doing this for the common good.’”
On Thursday, the county declared a local health emergency and the County Health Officer issued a health order to mandate the cancellation or postponement of non-essential gathers of 250 or more people. Small gatherings are required to include six-foot distancing between participants, particularly for those who are at high risk of severe illness of COVID-19, officials said.
As of Saturday evening, a total of 247 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state. A total of 143 cases involve people between 18 and 64, 98 involve people 65 or older, four involve people younger than 17 and two cases are from unknown age groups. There have been five deaths in California thus far, including one non-California resident, officials said.
The public is encouraged to visit www.publichealthsbc.org for updates and information on the county’s response to the novel virus.
UCSB has opened their phone line to parents and students, which will be in operation from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at 805-893-3000. To reach the county’s COVID-19 call center, call 805-688-5551.