With darkness all around, Easter and Passover provide us promise and hope — just don’t you dare gather in celebration.

While the coronavirus has been bulldozing our lives, livelihoods and lifestyle, my friend, Brian Goebel, has been data diving to provide context, clarity and clues about the health threat.

You’re about to read more about that — and the record-breaking audience he’s been drawing to Noozhawk — but I’ve got some exciting news before you do.

At 1 p.m. Monday, April 13, Brian and I will be holding an hour-long conversation about COVID-19, his modeling forecasts past and present, and his insights into the methodology and analytics that explain the true scope of the scourge.

We would love to have you join us on this livestream Zoom meeting on our homepage and Facebook page, and we’re inviting you to submit your questions for possible inclusion in the discussion. Click here to pose your question through our Noozhawk Asks platform. Submissions will be accepted up until 5 p.m. April 12.

This will be a first for Noozhawk, and I’m not quite sure how it’s going to work. We’ll have that figured out over the weekend, however, and will post the details on our homepage, in our A.M Report and on our social media channels. And now you know what I’ll be doing the rest of Good Friday!

Team Noozhawk has been working hard to provide reliable reporting on Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 preparation and response, and we believe this webinar can be an informative and innovative way to engage with our readers. We’re eager to try.

We also need your help. While not everyone can afford to invest in local journalism right now, we can’t afford to lose it. Can we count on you?

If you can make a monthly, or even one-time, donation to help Noozhawk navigate this crisis, please do so now. You can give any dollar amount you want. The important thing is to support Noozhawk so we can continue to provide you with the local news you depend on.

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According to our Google Analytics, there were an eye-popping 332,484 of you reading Noozhawk this past week, and what follows is my take on the most-read stories during that period.

The coronavirus crisis is back on top — and then some — so I’ve once again turned the Top 5 stories into a Top 10. And please remember that this is an opinion column, not a news story.

Thank you for your support!

1. Brian Goebel: California Substantially Flattened the COVID-19 Curve in March

The aforementioned Brian Goebel is a thoughtful and deliberate guy, a public policy wonk without the wonkishness, and he has a passion and a tenacity for data analysis. He’s the founder of a successful applied analytics firm; editor-in-chief of the Santa Barbara-based, nonpartisan policy blog 2040 Matters; and a Montecito Water District board member.

Brian Goebel

Noozhawk columnist Brian Goebel has been cool, calm and correct throughout the coronavirus pandemic panic. (Goebel family photo)

He’s also written the most widely read article in Noozhawk’s 12½-year history.

I’ll get to the gist of his April 4 report in a minute, but the extraordinary traffic milestone merits more attention — especially since tracking our readership is the whole point of my weekly Best of Bill columns.

By the time you read this, Brian’s column will have been read more than 169,000 times, more than double our previous No. 1 story, the Nov. 25, 2019, first day — and night — report on the Cave Fire burning above Santa Barbara.

As soon as we posted Brian’s column, just after 1 p.m. last Saturday, our Google Analytics went into Ludicrous Mode. At one point on Sunday afternoon, there were 11,000 people on our website and nearly 10,000 of them were reading what Brian had written.

That just doesn’t happen. It certainly doesn’t for me!

So, why the hit number?

Well, when we’re in the middle of a bewildering, catastrophic and seemingly endless pandemic that is acting like the spawn of Armageddon and the Great Depression, there’s a hunger for some positive news. Brian’s report was all that.

But rather than building narrative around the inevitable rise of confirmed coronavirus cases and adding shocking projections of death, as too many public officials and news media types are wont to do, Brian dug deeper into the data.

He identified and followed trends in new daily confirmed cases, new fatalities and hospital capacity, and studied other models to gain a greater understanding of the coronavirus’ course.

The startling-yet-encouraging conclusion is that California had begun flattening the COVID-19 curve in mid-March — actually before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order. That became even more evident with Brian’s April 8 update.

Brian was right then, and he’s right now. And, in my mind, that’s what has resonated with readers.

We know our readers are smart, and they can draw their own conclusions. But throughout this crisis, the one thing that seems to be in very short supply — other than toilet paper — is a focus on data facts.

Readers have been searching for that and have found it with Brian, and they know they can trust his work. It would be wise for those responsible for our public health and safety to follow his lead.

2. COVID-19 Survivor Shares Warning While Waiting for Wife to Recover, Too

Melissa and Louise Meza

Best wishes to Melissa and Louis Meza for a quick and lasting recovery. (Meza family photo)

Santa Maria Valley resident Louis Meza went toe to toe with the coronavirus, and eventually lived to tell about it.

Although most coronavirus cases are mild, the potential lethality of COVID-19 is not trivial. Meza is proof that it’s far worse than a common cold.

The 47-year-old chef at The Hitching Post in Casmalia came down with severe flu-like symptoms — and more — in mid-March. On his third trip to the emergency room at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, he was admitted with low oxygen levels.

Four days later, test results came back positive for the coronavirus.

Recalling a regimen of ice packs and cold showers to lower his temperature and a ventilator to help him breathe, Meza didn’t mince words in an interview with our Janene Scully.

“It was rough,” he said.

He also filmed a now-viral Facebook video describing his plight and calling on the public to heed social distancing precautions.

While Meza is now recovering at home, his wife followed him into the hospital. On the day he was to be discharged, 43-year-old Melissa Meza was admitted with the same symptoms and later diagnosis.

She, too, was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit and has remained there ever since.

“All I can do is sit here and pray,” he said.

Meza continuously checks in by telephone with his wife, who works at the Mechanics Bank operations center in Santa Maria, and the hospital staff.

“They told us she’s heading in the right direction,” he said. “She not going backward, so that’s good.”

A GoFundMe account has been established to assist the Mezas with their medical expenses, and has raised nearly $15,000 by April 10. Click here to make an online donation.

3. Brian Goebel: Current Data Point to Significantly Bent COVID-19 Curve in California

Brian Goebel’s much-anticipated data update to his April 4 column was published April 8, and it further validated his earlier conclusions that California was holding the coronavirus at bay.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom said on April 7 that the curve of the COVID-10 pandemic was “bending,” Brian was the first to suggest it already had “bent” — just like he had predicted in his March 27 column.

The good news is that daily coronavirus fatalities started flattening out on April 2, while the great news is that daily hospitalizations started dropping at roughly the same time.

After turning off the U.S. economy and essentially imprisoning most Americans in their own homes, that is the most welcome news we’ve had in weeks.

4. Nearly All of Latest Coronavirus Cases Are in Northern Santa Barbara County

Almost from the start, northern Santa Barbara County has outpaced the South Coast with COVID-19 infections. As of April 4, the county Public Health Department was reporting 113 cases in the North County with less than half — 55 — on the South Coast.

Noozhawk reporters have been pressing Public Health officials to explain that discrepancy, but we’d characterize their response as vague, at best. I can’t be the only one thinking that such analysis ought to be fundamental to a county Public Health Department.

Our Tom Bolton asked Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino whether department officials had been any more forthcoming with him than they have been with us. Strikingly, the answer was no.

He did note that Santa Maria and Lompoc appear to have more people out and about than there are in Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Part of that, he suggested, is a result of the “cultural difference” between the two regions, with the North County’s tight-knit extended families accustomed to gathering together frequently. Additionally, with Santa Maria’s high housing density, it’s not uncommon for as many as eight to 10 people to be sharing a home.

Those two factors alone undermine “social distancing” and the benefits of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide “stay-at-home” order.

“I think the message is just not getting through,” Lavagnino said. “We still see a lot of people gathering together.”

5. 2 Transients Arrested in Santa Barbara Attack Now Facing Murder Charges in Santa Cruz

Caitlin Crenshaw and Cody Huynh

Probably not a good idea to let Caitlin Crenshaw, left, and Cody Huynh get between you and the door. Hopefully, they won’t darken it anytime soon. (Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department photos)

Two traveling ne’er-do-wells charged in an attack on a senior couple in downtown Santa Barbara are now facing murder charges in the death of a Santa Cruz County woman.

Santa Barbara police arrested Caitlin Rose Crenshaw and Cody Huynh, both 23, on Feb. 26 following an attack in the 700 block of State Street.

As Noozhawk reported at the time, an Oxnard couple in the their early 70s was walking with their 13-year-old grandson when there was some kind of an altercation with a local homeless man.

According to police, Crenshaw and Huynh jumped into the fray, and Crenshaw punched the couple, leaving them with minor injuries.

The two suspects were booked into County Jail, with Crenshaw charged with misdemeanor counts of elder abuse and battery, and Huynh with misdemeanor battery.

Decscribed as “urban travelers,” the pair had been scheduled to appear in Superior Court on March 26 but, you know, the coronavirus.

Evidently, Crenshaw and Huynh weren’t waiting around for their arraignment anyway. As our Tom Bolton first reported, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s investigators arrested them April 1 in connection with the murder of 55-year-old Kimberly Smith.

Santa Cruz County sheriff’s officials say Smith was found dead the day before, and it was quickly apparent who the prime suspects were. Robbery apparently was the motive, they added.

Authorities say Crenshaw was arrested in San Bernardino County — in Smith’s car. Conveniently, Huynh was already in the San Bernardino County Jail on an unrelated matter or two.

Both suspects were brought back to Santa Cruz County and booked on felony robbery and murder charges, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s officials said. They are being held without bail.

6. Modeling Shows How COVID-19 Cases Might Play Out in Santa Barbara County

7. 2nd Coronavirus Death Reported in Santa Barbara County as Total Cases Rise to 174

8. Firefighters Rescue Naked Man from Storm Drain in Downtown Santa Barbara

9. Brian Goebel: Italy Has Flattened Its Curve, California May Not be Far Behind

10. Bill Macfadyen: Coronavirus Takes a Break But Death of Mekia Valentine Is Just as Jarring

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? First of 2 Santa Barbara-Area Target Stores Opens on State Street.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This public service is long overdue, and the introduction is written by Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics and son of my friend, Noozhawk columnist Lou Cannon, and his wife, Mary: American Civics in the Time of Coronavirus.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

If any barn owls are reading my Noozhawk column, have I got a new home for you! Details are in my Instagram feed this past week.

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Watch It

Sharpshooting D.J. Wilson, a Santa Barbara Junior High School seventh-grader, isn’t letting the #coronacation erode his basketball — and football — skills. Credit the nifty camera work to brother Luke, a Montecito Union School fifth-grader. HT to their dad, my friend, Dean Wilson, for the tag.


All today! #together #quarantinelife #americaworkstogether

A post shared by Dean Wilson (@deanwilson314) on

(Dean Wilson video)

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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
If you value dependable local reporting, will you support Noozhawk today?
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.