Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has come up short with the information it has shared with the public. What has been provided has been bafflingly inconsistent, often incomplete, and tremendously frustrating for those of us trying to make sense of it for you.

In late July, the department casually announced it somehow had overlooked 28 coronavirus fatalities, making the actual local death toll around 60 at the time.

How and why such a thing could happen are questions Team Noozhawk is still trying to get answered nearly two months later, while the county has just written off the mistake as an “oops.”

At this point in the pandemic, the inability to get basic and prompt information about the coronavirus’ ongoing impact in our community is both alarming and unacceptable. The lack of urgency is stupefying.

Over the last few months, Noozhawk’s editors and reporters have been increasingly persistent as they try to wrest from the county more complete information about important aspects of the contagion, such as the ages; the extent and specifics of underlying health conditions; and other demographics about people being treated for COVID-19 in local hospitals, and the capacity and wait times for testing.

They’ve also pressed county officials about data irregularities and other failures in the local response.

We need this information because you need this information. Officials are making public health and economic decisions on your behalf while stubbornly refusing to be transparent about the coronavirus’ severity and its progression here in our community. We think that’s just wrong. You should, too.

Futhermore, there’s not yet a vaccine or a cure. We’ve all been deputized as being responsible for protecting ourselves, our families, our friends, our co-workers and even total strangers from COVID-19. In such an environment, one would think public health officials would overshare what they know instead of acting as if they have something to hide.

Getting a satisfactory response has been difficult at best, but we’ll keep the pressure on for as long as it’s needed. If Noozhawk isn’t here to ask the tough questions, who will?

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According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 103,942 readers this past week.

What follows is my take on the Top 5 stories you were reading, as tracked through those analytics.

In case you didn’t know by now, this is an opinion column, my opinion column in my capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher. It is not a news story.

1. Santa Barbara County Now Urging All Residents to Get Tested for COVID-19 to Help Move to Next Tier

After months of contradictory statements about testing for the coronavirus, Santa Barbara County public health officials now want everyone to get tested for COVID-19. Apparently they’ve decided it’s the only thing standing in the way of us getting on with our lives, and livelihoods. Who knew?

“We are now asking the community to get tested,” county Emergency Medical Services Agency director Nick Clay declared Sept. 11. “Now, not only is the testing more readily available, but sustained community testing will contribute to the county moving to the next reopening tier.”

According to Clay, California adjusts the number of COVID-19 cases that Santa Barbara County is permitted to have based on the number of tests conducted. The state compares the county’s average testing volume to the state’s average testing volume.

Get this: If the county tests more than the state does, the state adjusts the county’s seven-day case numbers downward.

You know, because SCIENCE.

“If we test less than the state average, we are penalized and our case rate is adjusted upward, and that’s a bad thing,” our Josh Molina quoted Clay as saying. “It’s critical that we test more than the state average.

“That number changes every week, so it is a moving target.”

The county’s latest stance on testing is a reversal from its position of about six weeks ago when Clay announced that tests would be limited to people experiencing coronavirus symptoms or who have had a known exposure. That was a reversal from an earlier community testing drive to determine how the contagion spreads.

Tests are available from private labs, but Clay said free testing by the state is offered at the Goleta Valley Community Center, at 5679 Hollister Ave. in Old Town Goleta; at American Medical Response, at 240 E. Highway 246, Suite 110, in Buellton; and at Santa Maria Fairpark, at 937 S. Thornburg St. in Santa Maria.

Good luck making an appointment in Goleta as the website showed no openings when I checked around 2 p.m. Sept. 17. During a Zoom meeting this week with the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce, Clay acknowledged the high demand at the lone South Coast location and said the county has asked the state for more capacity there.

Frankly, local businesses and the 10 percent of Santa Barbara County’s workforce that is unemployed, as well as parents of now-homeschooled students, should be demanding answers from the county Public Health Department about the deplorable lack of available testing. The county’s leadership and elected officials appear to be in no hurry to do so.

As I’ve been scolded repeatedly, I am neither a medical doctor nor an epidemiologist — although I think I would remember if I had ever claimed otherwise.

But as a simple, undereducated journalist, I do question the efficacy of relying on testing instead of actual hospital admissions to make sweeping decisions about public health.

Regardless of test results, Santa Barbara County has consistently had a COVID-19 survival rate of just under 99 percent, and hospitalizations have been plunging both within the county and throughout California.

2. Police Investigating After Body Found in Mission Creek in Santa Barbara

Mission Creek investigation

Searching Santa Barbara’s Mission Creek for answers. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

A dead man was found in Mission Creek near downtown Santa Barbara on Sept. 15. Police say foul play was not suspected.

SBPD spokesman Anthony Wagner told our Tom Bolton that the body was discovered near West Anapamu Street around 3 p.m.

“This does not appear to be suspicious at this time,” he said.

The man’s identity was not disclosed. As usual, police released no other details “pending futher investigation.”

3. Bill Macfadyen: Split-Second Move Turns Deadly for Goleta Motorcyclist

Motorcycle crash

Crash aftermath at King Daniel Lane and Cathedral Oaks Road in western Goleta. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Nothing more to report on dead motorcyclist Daniel Harris of Goleta and the crash that killed him.

4. Two Killed When Airplane Bound for Santa Ynez Airport Crashes Near Van Nuys

A single-engine airplane headed to the Santa Ynez Airport crashed the afternoon of Sept. 11 shortly after takeoff in Van Nuys. The pilot and his lone passenger died in the wreck.

As our Janene Scully first reported, the Ryan Navion B aircraft had just departed from Van Nuys Airport when, for unknown reasons, it appeared to stall before nose-diving into a nearby parking lot.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office identified the pilot as 62-year-old Jim deVarennes of Pacific Palisades.

The identity of the other victim, a woman, has not yet been released.

Authorities say the plane caught fire after the crash, which damaged several parked cars. There were no injuries on the ground.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cause and circumstances of the crash.

The plane, built in 1950, was registered to Yoloa Corp. of Santa Monica. Yoloa is affiliated and shares an address with Palisades Roofing & Construction, which deVarennes reportedly founded.

5. BizHawk: Business Is Brewing at M. Special’s New Spot in Downtown Santa Barbara

M. Special owner Brendan Malloy

M. Special plants its flag on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

M. Special Brewing Co. has been a popular fixture in its somewhat out-of-the-way Goleta location since it opened in 2015.

Now, a second, very visible M. Special location is serving brews and food in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara.

Entrepreneur and owner Brendan Malloy gave our Josh Molina a tour of the new brewery at 634 State St., the former home of Tonic night club.

“We found this place and really gravitated toward it because of the size,” he said. “It’s a true beer garden, beer hall-type of vibe.”

The new spot features a large outdoor dining area on State Street as well as an ample outdoor area in back.

The original M. Special has been a hit in its industrial-style facility in the back of a Goleta business park at 6860 Cortona Drive, Suite C. I suspect it won’t take long for its State Street sister to catch up.

In other BizHawk news, a shoutout goes to my good friend, Kelly Knight, who, with Michelle Eskandari, has opened the boutique Knight Real Estate Group as part of Village Properties Realtors.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Drunken Driving Suspected in 3-Vehicle, Head-On Crash on Highway 154.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

It appears to be curtains for cursive: Should We Quit Teaching Cursive in a Digital Age?

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

Smokeset and vintage cars. They’re all in my Instagram feed this past week.

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Watch It

The secrets of social media purgatory.

YouTube video

(AwakenWithJP video)

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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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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!
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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, 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, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.