On behalf of Team Noozhawk, thank you for the outpouring of support for our ongoing coronavirus emergency reporting.

We had set a goal of $25,000 for this campaign and, thanks to you, we exceeded it. We’ll be using the funds to expand our coverage while protecting Noozhawk from any erosion in our advertising revenue as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy.

Our primary mission at Noozhawk is to keep you connected to what’s happening in our community. In times like these, when everyone’s health and safety is on the line, accurate and reliable news and information are even more crucial.

Publishing updates 24/7, we’re reporting on closures and cancellations, announcements from public officials and updated local preventive measures, along with our regular run of the local news on which you rely.

Noozhawk’s pageviews have increased by more than 90 percent in the last two weeks, and new readers are growing at a rapid clip. We’re gratified by that response, and want to be able to grow along with it.

Yes, I’ll donate! >

If you can make a monthly, or even one-time, donation to help Noozhawk navigate this crisis, please do so now. We’re glad to be able to provide this critical service, but we can’t do it without you.

We also can’t do it without our Google Analytics, which reports that 157,012 of you were reading Noozhawk this past week. While these Best of Bill columns are my take on the Top 5 most-read stories during that period, this column is again expanded to a Top 10 to accommodate all the coronavirus coverage.

Once again, I must remind you that this is an opinion column. I’m also warning you that I’ve got a lot of them this week.

1. Former UCSB Basketball Standout Mekia Valentine Dies at 32

After more than two weeks of coronavirus fever, a completely different kind of story swept to the top spot. Unfortunately, it was no less tragic and sobering.

Mekia Valentine, a former UC Santa Barbara basketball star and one of the greatest Gaucho defenders ever, died March 26. She was just 32.

Mekia Valentine

For Mekia Valentine, defense was her department. (UC Santa Barbara photo)

Valentine’s death was announced by the UCSB Athletic Department, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said an autopsy would be conducted to determine the cause and manner.

“Our hearts are heavy today …,” said Kelly Barsky, UCSB’s deputy athletics director and Valentine’s former coach. “Our deepest condolences to her family.

“I am heartbroken as are her many teammates, friends, coaches and those in the community who knew and loved her.”

After transferring from Wake Forest in 2008, the 6-foot-4 Valentine made her mark at UCSB.

In 2009-2010, the Greensboro, North Carolina, native averaged 12.3 points a game, led the team in rebounding with a 9.7 average per game and blocked a school-record 120 shots.

The next season, as a senior, she blocked 115 shots and averaged 11.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game en route to being named the Big West Conference’s defensive player of the year.

As our Barry Punzal first reported, Valentine holds 10 of the 13 top shot-blocking performances in UCSB history, including a school record and career-high 11 on Jan. 2, 2010.

The New York Liberty selected her in the third round of the 2011 WNBA draft, but she instead went overseas to pursue her professional hoop dreams, playing for Israel, Poland, Romania and Germany.

After retiring in 2015, Valentine returned to Santa Barbara, studying nursing at Santa Barbara City College and working as a Cottage Health patient-care technician.

At the time of her death, she was employed as a human resources assistant at AppFolio in Goleta.

Funeral services are pending.

2. North County Man Was Santa Barbara County’s 1st Death from Coronavirus

Marian Regional Medical Center

May “The Prayer of St. Francis” comfort the family and friends of Santa Barbara County’s first coronavirus fatality. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County’s first confirmed death from the coronavirus was announced April 1, but county Public Health Department officials were as inexcusably vague as ever about the details.

Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, described the victim as “a North County resident in their 60s.”

He added that the individual had underlying health conditions and had been on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, where the death occurred.

All other details were withheld, as usual, although Noozhawk has reason to believe the victim was a man.

As our Josh Molina reported, officials at the same news briefing in Santa Barbara said the county’s tally of COVID-19 cases had reached 111. Of that number, 17 people are hospitalized, including 13 in ICUs.

But, county Public Health director Van Do-Reynoso said, 65 people were recovering at home and 23 had fully recovered.

I understand the federal HIPAA law, officially the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects the confidentiality of patients’ sensitive health information — including their identities. That’s fine by me.

And I’m not unsympathetic to the argument that disclosing more patient comings and goings might unfairly stigmatize the places they went.

But if these people were out in public, it is absolutely not fair that authorities are not informing the rest of us if we might have been exposed. For the sake of candor and transparency, shouldn’t officials be conducting what’s known as “contact tracing” to identify those with whom they may have crossed paths?

Santa Barbara County residents have willingly and widely adhered to the statewide stay-at-home order as a way to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of announcing ill-defined circumstances and ill-described numbers, officials should try leveling with us as adults. We may even be able to help. Might as well do somethin’ while we’re doing nothin’.

May the first victim rest in peace.

3. COVID-19 Cases in Santa Barbara County Increase to 88

Coronavirus news conference

Spreading out is one way to “flatten the curve” — literally. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Information-starved readers are still greatly interested in the case count, though. Including this one, six of the next seven positions in the Top 10 are all daily tally stories.

4. 17 More Coronavirus Cases Confirmed in Santa Barbara County

5. Patient at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in Critical Condition with Coronavirus

6. 4 New Cases of Coronavirus Bring Santa Barbara County’s Total to 68

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

My friend, Brian Goebel, founder and editor in chief of the nonpartisan 2040 Matters public policy blog, has been doing terrific — and tedious — work mining publicly available coronavirus data to try to determine just what kind of pandemic pandemonium is likely in our future.

He’s been writing almost daily columns on the trends in testing, cases identified and, perhaps most determinedly, the capacity of California’s health-care system.

The intent is to shift the public’s focus toward a more meaningful understanding of the challenge, how fast the virus actually is spreading, whether government modeling is accurate and if public health measures are working.

Brian’s April 1 column finds progress in hard-hit Italy, and let’s all hope he’s right. He has been so far.

8. COVID-19 Cases Hit 99; Public Health Officials Seeking ‘Alternative Care Beds’ for Critically Ill

9. Coronavirus Cases Jump to 47 in Santa Barbara County; Jail Contract Employee Tests Positive

10. Police Investigating Armed Robbery Reported at Santa Barbara Business

In this week’s episode of Santa Barbara Police Department Mysteries, a man wearing a disguise allegedly robbed a business in the 4000 block of Calle Real the afternoon of March 31.

The guy may have had a weapon. He may have been wearing a medical mask. And he may have fled the scene in a newer black Mercedes-Benz.

What police spokesman Anthony Wagner was authorized to tell our Tom Bolton is that the incident was reported about 1 p.m. on the stretch of Calle Real just off Outer State Street east of Highway 154. He said the man stole money and items from a store, and there were no injuries.

As we’ve now come to expect from SBPD, there also wasn’t a description of the suspect. So I guess if any of this sounds familiar, ehhh, don’t worry about.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Stricken Swimmer Dies After Being Pulled from Ocean in Santa Barbara.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Read it and weep: If You Think People Are The Worst These Days, These 35 Wholesome Pics May Change Your Mind.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

@sadiethealaskanmalamute was all over my Instagram feed this past week. But I squeezed in a #mahjongg appearance, too.

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Watch It

Monty the Penguin has been taking full advantage of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s captive audience during the COVID-19 closure. He’s a must-follow as he goes gallivanting around with his Instagram crew in tow. Besides, is there anything cuter than a penguin waddle?

(Santa Barbara Zoo video)

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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!
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.