The Public Health Director called the state COVID-19 reopening criteria “unreasonable” on Tuesday, and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is asking the state to reconsider the metrics and exclude Lompoc prison complex cases when evaluating the region’s readiness.

The supervisors voted to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a day after other local elected officials sent one expressing similar concerns.

“As we all know, the governor is making the decisions about when all of us can return to our normal lives, when the restrictions of the stay at home order can be loosened, the governor and California Department of Public Health,” County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said.

Newsom has released criteria for counties to meet to “loosen a little more,” as Miyasato called it, which would allow opening places such as shopping malls, car washes, office spaces, dine-in restaurants, school and childcare facilities, and outdoor museums.

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Santa Barbara County does not meet the epidemiological state standards.

“Well, last week seems like eons ago,” she said. “With the metrics that were proposed last week, yes, we would have been in a good state. However, with the epi metrics, with no more than 45 cases and zero deaths (over a 14-day period), we are not achieving that.

“It’s unreasonable for us to achieve that, and I think that’s why we crafted the letter for the board to consider sending.”

The county will soon meet the requirements for the amount of testing and contact tracing, she said, and has the required hospital capacity and workforce guidelines.

Many other counties seem to be in a similar situation of meeting the variance criteria except the new epidemiological ones, Do-Reynoso said.

Variance metrics

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso presented Santa Barbara County’s readiness on state reopening standards, including epidemiological metrics for new COVID-19 cases and deaths reported.  (Santa Barbara County Public Health Department photo)

“It seems an unsurmountable metric for the counties to achieve at this time,” she said. 

In the draft letter, the county writes that the standard of fewer than one case per 10,000 people in a two-week period (45 new cases for Santa Barbara County’s population) is “a conflicting approach” with the mandate to increase testing.

The supervisors are asking for a standard positivity rate under 10 percent instead, which is “more achievable.”

Variance metric chart

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Santa Barbara County does not meet all the state standards for moving beyond the current stay-at-home order rules.  (Santa Barbara County Public Health Department photo)

The county is also asking the state to consider changing the fatality metric from zero deaths to a low fatality rate of 2 percent.  

“Given the demographics of Santa Barbara County, the variance metric of zero deaths in the last 14-day period is not reasonable,” the letter asserts.

“Our county population includes 15% of over 65 years of age; 6% with diabetes; 27% with hypertension; 5% with COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis; 13% with asthma; and 23% with obesity. These are underlying health conditions that increase likelihood of poor outcomes when combined with COVID-19 infection.

“We propose a more reasonable metric of a 2% fatality rate, which is 50% less than the current 4% fatality rate in California cases.”

With 11 deaths and 1,362 reported cases as of Monday, the county would have a 0.8 percent fatality rate.

The supervisors are concerned the Lompoc prison outbreak will hinder local reopening efforts, since mass testing has revealed the majority of inmates have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

The Bureau of Prisons has not been forthcoming with information about the cases at its low-security and medium-security facilities, and its 20-person on-site field hospital cannot handle intensive care cases, according to the Public Health Department.

New cases chart

A breakdown of new COVID-19 cases in the county shows the prevalence of Lompoc federal correctional complex cases in recent days as the Bureau of Prisons does mass testing.  (Santa Barbara County Public Health Department photo)

Two inmates have died, and an unknown number have been hospitalized in county hospitals.

Family members of inmates are desperate for information and local officials are frustrated with the BOP’s response so far.  

“We are prepared to be responsible for the staff, but cannot be responsible for the inmates,” Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said at a county COVID-19 briefing Friday.

Hart has been moderating the three-times-weekly events as the chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

“The point is that we can manage the people who are coming into the community, but we have no authority to manage what’s going on inside the prison,” he said.

The prison-related cases are not the sole reason Santa Barbara County is failing the epidemiological criteria for reopening, however, as Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg pointed out.

In the 14-day period ending Monday, Santa Barbara County reported 873 new cases and four deaths.

Excluding the cases among prison inmates, the county reported 100 new cases and two deaths in that period – exceeding the state standards of 45 new cases and zero deaths.

“It’s up to all of us, excluding prison inmates, to stay vigilant and protect ourselves and our neighbors so these numbers start to go down more,” Ansorg said Monday. “People need to not focus on the prison so much because it is not the only hurdle we are facing.”

Assistant County Executive Officer Nancy Anderson said there have been many meetings in the past week on the economic reopening plan for the county, which they’re calling the Reopening in Safe Environment (RISE) Guide.

It will be presented to the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday, she said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.