Highway 101 Caltrans sign COVID
Caltrans has turned on highway signs across California with COVID-19-related messaging.  (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County was waiting on coronavirus test results for 96 people as of Monday, according to the Public Health Department.

One confirmed case had been reported at that point, in Santa Maria, and the county is collaborating with neighboring San Luis Obispo County for the contact investigation, to identify people potentially exposed to the virus, said Paige Batson, deputy director of Community Health.  

Several people have been quarantined related to that case, she said.

The Public Health Department has also quarantined and tested five Isla Vista residents, who are UCSB students, potentially exposed to a confirmed case in San Diego.

Test results were expected Tuesday or Wednesday, department head Van Do-Reynoso said during a press conference. 

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.

On Tuesday morning, officials confirmed a second case of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said the 1,700 sample kits in the county were not as many as officials would like right now, but production of test kits and testing capacity should increase in coming weeks.

Due to the limited capacity, health care providers developed a tiered system to decide which patients will be tested.

Priority will be given to people who are the most vulnerable, such as those living in senior residential facilities who become significantly ill, Ansorg said.

Health care workers and first responders are another priority, “not because they’re better people, but just because we really rely on their services,” he said.

Severely ill people who are hospitalized will have fast-tracked tests so facilities can mitigate potential shortages of isolated, negative pressure rooms, he said.

The lowest testing category would be people who are mildly ill, since test results one way or the other would not change the therapy of isolating until symptoms are gone, according to Ansorg.

The county is getting ready to roll out some “drive-through” testing by appointment for pre-screened patients who meet certain criteria, with swabs taken in parking lots or other areas outside healthcare facilities, Do-Reynoso said. 

Public Health Paige Batson and Henning Ansorg

Paige Batson and Dr. Henning Ansorg from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department give an update to the Board of Supervisors on March 10. They have held several news conferences since then, including Monday, to give updates on COVID-19 testing and confirmed cases.  (Courtesy photo)

The CDC’s initial test kits that went out to public health systems across the country were not accurate, which slowed down the availability, noted Dr. Stewart Comer, Cottage Health’s laboratory director. 

“As we’ve done in other challenging times, our community will continue to unite, to take care of each other to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and to help those in need,” said Gregg Hart, chair of the county Board of Supervisors.

“If you’re an older person, stay home away from other people. If you’re a person with serious underlying health conditions that can put you at increased risk, stay home away from other people,” Hart said.

Everyone should limit their activities to help stop the spread, he added.

Young and healthy people can get seriously ill from this virus, despite earlier reports, Ansorg noted.

There are no patient costs to be screened and tested for COVID-19, and people without insurance can visit safety-net providers including county health care centers or Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Do-Reynoso said.

What to Do If You Think You Are Sick or Become Sick 

“If you feel like you’re coming down with a sore throat, a cold, nasal congestion, a cough, a fever and any of these upper respiratory or lower respiratory symptoms, please, please consider yourself a potential case,” Ansorg said. “I don’t mean this in order to make people afraid, but just to take it seriously. Do not go to work, do not mingle with people, stay isolated and take care of yourselves.”

COVID-19 can present with a wide range of symptoms, including a sore throat or other mild illness without a fever, Ansorg said.

Anyone with symptoms is asked to self-isolate at home until they have no fever for three days (without taking Tylenol or something else to lower the fever) and no symptoms, and then wait an additional three days before going out, he said.

People may feel better and want to go back to work or other activities, but they should follow the guidance even if they haven’t been tested for COVID-19, he said.

“Stay home until 72 hours after complete freedom of symptoms.”

More guidance is available on the Public Health COVID-19 information page here.

Anyone who feels sick is advised to isolate at home and drink plenty of fluids, and take Tylenol to lower fever if there is one, he said.

Sneezes and coughs can be highly contagious if a person is sick with the novel coronavirus, so anyone who seeks medical care is urged to call ahead and wear a mask to avoid infecting other patients and health care providers, he said.

If people have shortness of breath, pain with breathing, or a high fever, they may need to go to an emergency room, Ansorg said, adding that people should call ahead to say they are coming and potentially have COVID-19 symptoms.

Ansorg noted that current research indicates people only transmit the virus when they have symptoms, however, symptoms can be very mild in some people – a raspy throat or sniffles.

“I know it’s a fine line, but if they feel completely fine then the likelihood of them to transmit this virus is extremely low,” he said.

The virus is transmitted by droplet, and people are less likely to be infected in casual contact, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Paige Batson said.

However, “we all know that the virus can live a few hours to days depending on the right environment, so it’s important to disinfect surfaces,” she said.

Click here for more COVID-19 information from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. 

The county Office of Emergency Management opened a call center that can be reached at 833.688.5551. 

Noozhawk’s Coronavirus section is available online here.

Santa Barbara County K-12 schools have closed, or plan to close this week, and colleges have moved to “remote instruction” and canceled in-person classes. 

Allan Hancock College on Monday declared a state of emergency and extended its spring break one week, so no classes at all will be held until March 30. 

The five Santa Maria-area libraries announced they will close starting Tuesday and cancel all programming through March. Like other libraries that have closed in the county, the branches will have some digital resources available and call-in services including reference help and placing holds on materials.

Dozens of events have been canceled, and many facilities have already decided to close to the public.

On Monday the Santa Barbara Zoo joined that growing list, announcing it will cancel all public and private events through at least May 10. Zoo staff will continue caring for the animals and facility. 

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.

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

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