Public Health briefing on COVID
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart, second from left, and the Public Health Department’s Dr. Stewart Comer, Van Do-Reynoso and Dr. Henning Ansorg give a briefing on local COVID-19 cases Monday.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The county is seeing faster turnaround times for its COVID-19 tests, but doesn’t expect to expand capacity beyond its 80-90 tests a day in the near future, officials said at a Santa Barbara Public Health Department briefing Monday.

Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Public Health Officer, said the disease is more widespread locally than the confirmed cases indicate, since testing is still limited. 

However, there are signs that social distancing and other public health measures could be helping, he said. 

“It’s Day 18 of the governor’s stay-at-home order, and I am encouraged that we’ve had the first indication there is a slight deceleration of new infections. It gives me hope we will be able to slow down the virus,” he said. 

“Let us not give up early.”

Ansorg issued additional restrictions this weekend for restaurants and other food facilities selling meals for pickup and delivery, and clarified which businesses have to close during the stay-at-home order.

Public Health officials in Santa Barbara County now recommend everyone wear cloth face coverings in addition to social distancing when it’s necessary to leave home and go to the store, pharmacy, or other essential businesses.

A bandana, scarf, or homemade mask made out of a T-shirt will do, Ansorg said.

He said he was initially skeptical about the usefulness, but more research shows people can be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus, and covering the nose and mouth could reduce the spread to others.

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said Monday that 37 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County. 

“Many have recovered and many are still recovering,” she said. 

There were 192 cumulative cases as of Monday, which includes 116 males, 75 females and one unknown, she added.

“There is one confirmed outbreak at the Lompoc prison, with at least 28 people testing positive,” she said.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons reported the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex cases include 23 inmates and five staff members, and those cases make up the majority of local cases reported in the Lompoc Valley.

Dr. Stewart W. Comer, lab director for the Public Health Department, said the county can test all of its “Tier 1” priority cases it wants to – severely ill people, and symptomatic healthcare workers, first responders and people living in congregate living facilities such as nursing homes, jails and shelters – but the capacity is still limited.

“The positivity rate tends to stay very stable, in the 6-to-8-percent range,” he said.

The county has altered its testing criteria, which healthcare providers use to screen patients, to eliminate the question about travel history, and add gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain) to fever above 100.4 degres Fahrenheit, cough, shortness of breath or pain with taking a deep breath.

Comer said the county can now do rapid testing at its own lab (getting results within a day) and the other labs it uses have new analyzer equipment that contributes to faster results overall, he said.

The county currently gets 80-90 test results per day, with dozens of pending results accumulated. He offered no estimate for what the county testing capacity could be in a week or two.

Comer said more widespread public testing using serology (blood testing) for coronavirus is the “next phase.”

Confirmed Active Cases in Santa Barbara County Totals as of April 6
Total hospitalizations  34
ICU hospitalizations 19
Patients recovering at home 110

When someone tests positive, the Public Health Department quarantines the whole household for 14 days, Ansorg said.

Nurses interview patients who test positive to see whether they need help, whether they can self-isolate within their home, and track their movements within the past few days to identify any close contacts they may have exposed to the virus, Ansorg said.

Since March 26, when the county started releasing test results and confirmed case details daily, the Public Health Department has reported an average of 79 tests conducted per day and 13 positive cases discovered per day, with fewer of both on weekends.

The Public Health Department admits it does not know all tests conducted within the county, since private doctors and laboratories are testing patients as well.

On Monday, Do-Reynoso said the county will stop reporting its pending test results, and will only report its positive and negative results. There were about 200 pending tests, out of 1,426 total tests, as of Sunday. 

There have been two deaths of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County, and 42 people have fully recovered, according to the Public Health Department. 

San Luis Obispo County has reported no new cases in two of the past three days, and is concerned that not enough people are being tested.

Even residents with mild symptoms are asked to be tested, since capacity has increased, according to SLO County. 

Click here for Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section. 

Click here for the Public Health Department’s COVID-19 information page. 

JurisdictionTotal reported cases Cases Reported Per 100,000 Residents
Santa Barbara County19243
San Luis Obispo County9533.6
Ventura County22626.7
California 14,33636.3

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