Santa Barbara County’s public health director said Tuesday that the county is “in a good spot” with its novel coronavirus response and preparedness plans, including capacity for testing, contact tracing and hospitalizations.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “roadmap” for loosening the statewide stay-at-home order starts with reopening lower-risk businesses Friday for curbside pickup and delivery – including some retail, such as bookstores, florists, clothing stores and sporting goods stores – and then adapting higher-risk workplaces, county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso told the Board of Supervisors.
Counties can lift some restrictions faster if they meet the state’s public health-related readiness criteria, and the county is well positioned to do that, Do-Reynoso said.
In a separate process, the County Executive Office is developing an economic reopening plan with stakeholder input, and a draft is expected next week.
Do-Reynoso presented a “report card” to the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting, assessing the county’s progress toward milestones the California Department of Public Health has identified.
“We know that the number of active cases in our county is steadily declining at least for the last 14-day period,” Do-Reynoso said, “and if we look at the numbers of positives in the testing pool, it’s hovering around 10 percent.”
As of Tuesday, 526 cases and eight deaths have been reported in the county.
There were 114 active cases, which includes 39 hospitalizations and dozens of people who are recovering at home.
More than 5,000 people have been tested countywide, and capacity will be boosted significantly as the state-run community testing sites open in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Lompoc.
Those three sites are each expected to test 660 people per week, and stay open for about 60 days, Do-Reynoso said.
The state milestone is a testing capacity of 1 per 1,000 residents (which the county meets now), with testing sites accessible within 30 minutes for residents.
The percent-positive testing rate will likely drop once access is expanded, since tests so far have been mostly reserved for symptomatic people in congregate living, and essential workers such as healthcare workers and first responders.
Also, not all labs and medical providers are reporting negative tests to the county, Do-Reynoso said.
Healthcare workers represent 12 percent of the positive cases, which Do-Reynoso called worrisome and said will need to be monitored. Public Health has not released information about the cases, including where the workers are employed or whether they are believed to be work-related exposures.
The county is boosting the number of people in its contact tracing and investigation teams, which look for potential exposures and issue isolation and quarantine orders after people test positive.
“For now, I don’t anticipate the disease investigation, contact tracing, isolation and containment to be an issue just because we have a core group ready,” Do-Reynoso said. “We anticipated before the launch of today’s testing we had to do the planning two weeks prior, so we have a solid team with additional people being recruited to be the backup second level and third level.”
The Public Health Department is still hiring nurses, investigators and tracers, and will need additional staff to make up for county employees who have filled in but will eventually go back to their regular departments.
“I want to say we are well positioned just because we have done a lot of planning, a lot of partnership, a lot of heavy lifting these last two to three weeks in anticipation of mass testing, and in anticipation that we needed to be in order to reopen,” Do-Reynoso said.
She reported known outbreaks at six congregate settings for a total of 154 cases, but did not identify those locations. An outbreak means two or more cases linked to one address over a two-week period, she said.
The Lompoc federal correctional complex was the only outbreak reported in the county until now.
“We have done our contact tracing and served isolation and quarantine orders within 24 hours for 100 percent of positive cases in congregate settings or an essential workplace,” Do-Reynoso said.
Hospital Surge Capacity
The five local hospitals identified a surge capacity of 699 beds for COVID-19 patients, and the county has plans for alternate care sites for extra beds, if necessary.
As of Tuesday, 5.6 percent of the county’s identified COVID-19 treatment beds were occupied, and 10 percent of the COVID-19-specific intensive care unit beds were occupied, Do-Reynoso said.
The county has identified 154 ventilators available, which is an increase of 57 from a month ago. Hospitals have said they can convert anesthesia machines as part of surge planning.
According to the Public Health Department, 29 of the county’s ventilators were being used as of Tuesday, including seven for COVID-19 patients.
Hospitals have had low patient populations since they decided to cancel most elective surgeries, and will see numbers increase now that they are restarting some of those procedures.
Medical providers report having adequate amounts of personal protective equipment — masks, face shields, gowns and gloves — which is also a state requirement for the county readiness plans.