County officials announce latest COVID-19 totals at press conference on Tuesday.
County officials announce latest COVID-19 totals at press conference on Tuesday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County will follow a statewide plan outlined Tuesday by California’s governor and tailor its criteria to reflect local needs before lifting a coronavirus shelter-in-place order, county officials said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order that need to be met before California moves to next steps.

Timing of the transition in Santa Barbara County also will follow the California Department of Public Health guidance, said Dr. Henning Ansorg, county public health officer.

“Once our current infections, as well as hospitalizations, start to decline, and these six parameters are in place, a gradual opening of certain businesses and modifications to the stay-at-home-order will be implemented,” Ansorg said during a daily press briefing.

The county Public Health Department anticipates having a better understanding of the local situation at the end of April, plus how federal and state level efforts will better help access COVID-19 testing, treatment options and other resources, he said.

Ansorg didn’t provide a specific date.

Before county Public Health officials feel confident changing coronavirus-related policies, Ansorg said, they are looking for a plateau of hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.

“But, then we are actually looking for a decline in cases, and this decline cannot be a couple of days,” he said. “It has to be sustained and it has to be ongoing for probably a couple of weeks until we can have that discussion.”

Health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 are possible if the area is hit with another wave of outbreak.

Ansorg later added: “To protect (against) a second wave of infections, we will need to monitor our local disease closely, and we will need to be prepared to transition back to stay-at-home-orders or other measures as needed.”

Ansorg said the county needs enough tests to rapidly identify and isolate infected people.

“Our public health infrastructure needs technical support to manage and care for our isolated infected individuals, and to find and quarantine contacts to reduce further transmission,” he said.

A solid plan is required to support the elderly residents and senior facilities, as well as other vulnerable populations, so they can stay safe at home, Ansorg said.

The public health system in the county must “be able to meet the need for anticipated hospitalizations and intensive health care.”

“Meeting the need means that hospitals and other care sites must be able to protect their staff and patients with enough personal protective gear,” Ansorg said.

The development of treatments or therapeutics for patients with COVID-19 are needed, Ansorg explained.

Local schools and businesses have to adjust to structural and organizational changes “to allow for social distancing, and to provide enhanced regular cleaning and disinfection of the premises.”

Last, Ansorg said, the county must be able to “reinstate any protection measures as they are needed.”

Twenty-nine new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county Tuesday evening, bringing the overall total to 313 confirmed cases.

Of the new cases, 13 are people incarcerated at the Lompoc federal prison complex.

At the federal prison in Lompoc, the number of inmates with the virus totals 67. Of that number, 12 people are hospitalized, with two of those in an intensive care unit.

Twenty-four employees at the prison have tested positive for COVID-19, and one is hospitalized.

The county public health department has “intensified” its cooperation with infection control and medical teams at the federal prison, Ansorg said. 

The Public Health Department supports the Bureau of Prisons’ effort to erect a field hospital on the Lompoc federal prison grounds to “offload the burden on the local hospitals,” Ansorg said.

“Progress on this project is being made,” he said. “We will update you on new developments.”

County public health officials, meanwhile, are “actively testing, isolating and quarantining prison staff in order to limit further spread of the virus,” Ansorg said.

On Tuesday, six more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Santa Maria; three cases in Santa Barbara and the unincorporated area of Mission Canyon; three cases in Lompoc and the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village; two cases in the unincorporated area of the South Coast, which includes Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria; one case in Lompoc; and one is pending an update on its status.

The ages of the newly reported cases range from 20s to more than 70 years old.

Of the overall total cases, 133 people are recovering at home, 124 have fully recovered, 40 are recovering in a hospital, with 15 of those in an intensive care unit, and 14 are pending an update on their status.

Two people have died from the virus in the county.

“Our current numbers are reflecting an ongoing increase in total cases,” Ansorg said. “Fortunately, though, the number of hospitalizations and especially intensive care unit cases has remained fairly stable or is slightly decreasing.”

Santa Barbara County has conducted more than 3,200 tests, said Dr. Stewart W. Comer, lab director for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“Our testing rate is about 0.77 percent, a little less than one percent,” Comer explained. “If you compare that nationally, it’s 0.87 percent so we’re actually close to what the national average is in terms of the numbers of patients we test.” 

“If you look at the positivity, our positivity is about 8.5 to about 8.8 percent. Part of that reflects the uptick in Lompoc, but it has stayed steady except for the Lompoc contingency,” Comer added.

The number of hospitalizations has remained “stable,” Comer said.

Comer said testing “Tier 1” priority cases are conducted in the county.

All five hospitals in the county have access to COVID-19 testing that takes less than 12 hours, he said.

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital have access to “rapid testing capability for their inpatients to less than three hours,” Comer said.

Click here for the county Public Health Department’s coronavirus information.

Click here for Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.