Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso
Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso on Wednesday announced an eighth death from COVID-19 in the county. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria resident in their 60s with underlying health conditions has died of COVID-19, bringing Santa Barbara County’s total number of deaths to eight on Wednesday afternoon.

“We extend our condolences to the individual’s loved ones and everyone who has been impacted by this death,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Wednesday at the daily press briefing.

Other deaths have occurred in Goleta, in the unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley/Gaviota, in Lompoc, an inmate at the Lompoc federal correctional complex, in Santa Maria, and in Guadalupe or unincorporated North County of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama/New Cuyama.

County officials group some areas in its daily COVID-19 county reports, and there were no other immediate details about these locations.

Do-Reynoso also reported eight new confirmed cases, for a county total of 485.

Of Wednesday’s new cases, one is in the city of Santa Barbara and the unincorporated area of Mission Canyon, an inmate in the Lompoc federal correctional complex, one is in the Lompoc Valley, including the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village, one is in the city of Santa Maria, one is in Orcutt and one is in the unincorporated area of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama, and the city of Guadalupe.

Location updates were pending on two patients.

Of the new cases, four people were in the 30-49 age group, two people were in the 50-69 age group, one patient in the 0-17 age group, and one patient’s age was suppressed.

Both the hospitalizations and intensive care patient numbers are the lowest they’ve been since April 5. There were 33 people hospitalized, including 11 in intensive care, as of Wednesday.

According to the county, 81 people are recovering at home while 360 people — or almost 75% — have fully recovered.

Status updates were pending on three other patients.

The county is moving “to the next phase of increasing testing,” Do-Reynoso announced.

Starting next week, there will be expanded access to nasal swab testing for the pandemic disease at a new site in Santa Maria, Do-Reynoso said.

“This location (Santa Maria) is the first of three community-based testing sites that will cycle through Santa Barbara County,” Do-Reynoso said.

Additional sites are slated for Lompoc and Santa Barbara “in the coming weeks,” Do-Reynoso said, adding, “Testing will be conducted by appointments only, provided at no out-of-pocket costs and all community members are welcome to be screened for testing.”

Testing appointments are available for health care workers, first responders, essential workers and people with symptoms that match those of coronavirus, Do-Reynoso said.

Test results will be available within 48 hours, she said.

“Although testing will begin during the week of May 4, community members will be able to begin the screening process to determine eligibility later this week,” she said. 

No official date has been announced.

“A phone number and a website will be forthcoming,” Do-Reynoso said. 

Public health officials expect that contact tracing needs to increase when more community members are tested in the county.

Contact tracing is seen as a simple tool that’s vital to stopping the spread of COVID-19, Do-Reynoso said. 

“Contact tracing saves lives by helping to diagnose people earlier, improving the likelihood they will be identified, and thus reducing the chance of them spreading COVID-19 to others,” she said. “Our disease control team is ready, and will continue to quickly isolate new cases, find and quarantine their contacts at risk for the disease.”

She later continued: “It enhances our ability to test community members, isolate positive cases quickly and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County.”

Contact tracing will require another effort.

Do-Reynoso described a “core group of disease investigators, contact tracers and monitors.”

The county is hoping to add between 50-70 new staff, with an estimated total of about 90 or 100 people.

As of Wednesday, Do-Reynoso estimated roughly 20 people initially were assigned to the task.

For the past “two weeks or so,” county public health officials have been “aggressively pursuing adding to that number,” Do-Reynoso said.

Volunteers from other county departments are stepping up, Do-Reynoso said, mentioning support from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Department of Social Services and other community partners.

“If the county department has capacity they have been loaning us staff,” she said.

Local efforts are underway to gather plasma from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 in hopes it could be used to help others who are in the hospital and in intensive care fighting the virus.

“We still have sick patients in the hospital,” said Dr. Stewart W. Comer, lab director for the Public Health Department.

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria can perform local recruitment of plasma from convalescent COVID-19 patients, and a similar program is operated at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Recovered coronavirus patients can call Marian Regional Medical Center at 805.739.3333 ext. 2272, and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital by calling 805.569.7818.

“This is one way we can help those in need,” Comer said.

Beginning Friday, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District will require that passengers wear a cloth face covering or mask to ride an MTD bus. 

A grace period through Tuesday will be granted to provide the public with time to obtain an appropriate face covering.

“Face coverings are important in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, as individuals may be spreading the virus even though they may not show symptoms,” said Hillary Blackerby, MTD’s marketing manager, in a statement. “Medical grade masks are not required — a simple bandana, scarf or homemade cloth mask that covers the nose and mouth is sufficient. 

“Face coverings are also not a replacement for maintaining six feet of physical distance from others, and they must remain over the nose and mouth during the entire trip,” she continued.

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