Public Health update to supervisors
Paige Batson and Van Do-Reynoso present a COVID-19 update to the Board of Supervisors from the Santa Barbara hearing room Tuesday morning. Two more county supervisors and county staff gathered in Santa Maria.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said a second case of COVID-19 in a North County resident was confirmed late Monday night. 

Unlike the first case in Santa Maria, which is believed to be a community transmission (person-to-person spread locally), this case appears to be a close contact case with a known case in San Luis Obispo, she told the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. 

After a Monday evening briefing on local testing availability and guidance on what people should do if they feel sick, public health officials found out that a second test came back positive, Do-Reynoso said. 

It was around 10:30 p.m., and staff started their contact investigation “at that late hour,” she said.

They determined the second confirmed case was a North County resident in their 50s who appears to have had close contact with a positive case in San Luis Obispo. The individual has no underlying health conditions and is recovering in isolation at home, same as the first case, until cleared by the Public Health Officer. 

“This person has no history of travel within or outside the United States, but did have contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. This second case did not have contact with Santa Barbara County’s first confirmed case,” Public Health spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz said in a statement. 

The Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to ratify a Declaration of Local Health Emergency and Proclamation of Local Emergency for COVID-19.

Those actions will ensure legal immunities for emergency actions taken by the county and facilitate county and city requests for state and federal assistance, Do-Reynoso said in a staff report. It also will allow county officials to take preventive measures necessary to protect and preserve public health and safety, she said.

“The virus is considered to be a very serious public health threat for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, the fact that it is a novel virus, it is highly contagious, and that there are groups most at risk of serious illness,” Do-Reynoso wrote in her report. “Additionally, there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or specific antiviral treatment.”

County officials were assessing the estimated costs of COVID-19 response, Do-Reynoso’s report said.

Do-Reynoso said the county was reviewing actions by other California areas, including “what the Bay Area counties are doing in terms of enhanced community quarantine, and what Los Angeles County is doing in terms of enforcing social distancing,” before deciding on further action. 

“I would urge you to take some additional mandatory measures,” First District County Supervisor Das Williams said, adding, “I’m not urging a total shut down of the economy, but I’m urging stronger mandatory steps.”

The Public Health Department later issued their recommendation for all bars, nightclubs, wineries, breweries pubs to close immediately, and for restaurants to transition to takeout and delivery options.  

The virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, Community Health Director Paige Batson said.

Batson said social distancing, staying at least 6 feet away from other people, is effective because a cough or sneeze can typically send droplets up to 3 feet away. Disinfecting is important because the droplets can fall on a surface and the virus can live there for hours or days, she noted.

“Handwashing cannot be overstated,” because touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face  eyes, nose or mouth  can cause infection, Batson said.

“I think the wise decision at a time like this is to make sure that folks that are qualified like public health officials and those in the public health arena are making the decisions that affect us,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.

“And I for one will be lining up behind those folks with those qualifications, and urge calm and just a level head while we continue to follow the path that pub health professionals lay out for us.”

More information about prevention, symptoms and healthcare guidance is available on the Public Health Department COVID-19 website here. 

Batson reiterated that county healthcare providers collaborated to come up with criteria to prioritize testing since there is limited capacity.

She said the county has sufficient test kits right now, and more public health and commercial labs are “coming on board.”

Santa Barbara County sends its swabs to San Luis Obispo County, Ventura County, or the California public health labs, but the department anticipates being able to test critical cases locally within a few weeks.  

Sending tests outside of the county “has not slowed down the turnaround time for our critical cases,” Do-Reynoso said. 

Commercial labs have been taking three to five days for results, said Dr. Kevin Ferguson, medical director for Marian Regional Medical Center’s laboratory services and the other local Dignity Health facilities. 

“One of the biggest issues we’ve had is the lab testing. It’s taking a considerable amount of hours or days to get results back and in the meantime people don’t know what their situation is,” Marian Regional Medical Center CEO Sue Andersen said.  

“There is no local testing for COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County,” Ferguson said. “We are relying on the public health department of San Luis Obispo County and public health department in Ventura County to test our most vulnerable patients and our most at-risk patients and they’ve been gracious to do so. But their ability to test Santa Barbara County patients is limited and we’ve been told we have to go to the private sector to get the bulk of our testing done,” he said.

“Testing therefore is not completely in our control.” 

As of Monday afternoon, the county had tested 128 people total for coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, with one positive result, 31 negative results, and 96 pending (one of the pending later came back positive for this second confirmed case). 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland contributed reporting to this story.

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

Santa Barbara County COVID-19 Testing and Home Care Information 

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.