The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department on Thursday announced efforts to explore options for expanding COVID-19 testing capacity on the South Coast.

“We are actively working to ensure testing remains available countywide,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said at a press conference.

Public health officials are looking into other options to expand testing capacity in South County, “where the demand has routinely been the highest,” Do-Reynoso said.

She acknowledged that getting an appointment “has been somewhat challenging” at the state-run COVID-19 testing site in Goleta. 

Her remarks come shortly after county officials encouraged all individuals to get tested, and the demand to get a coronavirus test had outpaced online appointment availability at a state-run site in Goleta.

The state-run COVID-19 testing sites in Santa Barbara County are located at the Goleta Valley Community Center at 5679 Hollister Ave., at American Medical Response at 240 E. Hwy 246, Suite 110 in Buellton, and at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 Thornburg St.

Click here for more information about how to schedule a testing appointment at a state-run site.

Several weeks ago, California officials recognized that sites in several counties were booked weeks in advance. That made it difficult for community members to get a “more immediate appointment,” Do-Reynoso said. “As a result, they changed the reservations system to only release a couple of weeks at a time.”

Other testing sites are available in the county. The state-run COVID-19 testing spots are “just one of many locations where you can be tested,” Do-Reynoso said.

To find a testing location, click here to visit the California COVID-19 site.

Public health officials advise calling the testing location before arriving for an appointment.

For anyone feeling sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, county public health officials urge residents to reach out to their health care provider for guidance and access to testing.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had approved the Family First Act that will “cover the costs of all medically necessary COVID-19-related care, including testing,” Do-Reynoso said.

People who don’t have a health care provider are encouraged to visit the county’s Public Health Department site “to see if you are eligible for care at one of our clinics,” Do-Reynoso said.

COVID-19 testing is a “critical tool” helping public health officials understand the spread of the virus in the community, Do-Reynoso said, adding that testing has been a “focal point of our broad strategy to box in the virus” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The importance of testing is to ensure we know the prevalence of COVID in our community, and our ability to assist those impacted can not be underscored enough,” Do-Reynoso said. “The state has shown us this time and time again by tying testing rates directly to greater allowances for reopening.”

Santa Barbara County reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

The county’s hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 patients decreased to 28, with seven of those in intensive-care units. Thursday’s number of COVID-19 ICU patients was the lowest since the end of March.

The county’s total deaths as of Thursday remained at 109, with 106 in the community and three at the Lompoc Federal Prison Complex.

Active cases declined to 172 from 179 the previous day, and the county’s total rose to 8,803 reported cases of COVID-19. Out of 1,116 test results received in the past day, 1.7 percent were positive in the county.

Of the new cases, seven were in Isla Vista, and four each were reported in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc.

Santa Barbara County remains in the widespread (purple) tier, with a 9.1 case rate per 100,000 residents, Do-Reynoso said. Counties in the purple tier have more than seven new cases per 100,000 residents, or a higher than 8 percent testing positivity rate over seven days.

There were an average of 42 new COVID-19 cases per day between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, Do-Reynoso said.

“This means there was an increase of about six new cases per day from the previous rating period,” Do-Reynoso said, noting that Santa Barbara County had been in the purple tier for two weeks.

The state system has four color-coded tiers and assesses counties weekly, with reports planned every Tuesday. The new tier report allows for modifications to sectors, schools and activities in California counties.

To move into the red tier and to account for any adjustment factors, Do-Reynoso said, the county must decrease its daily new cases to fewer than 31.

“By meeting this goal for two weeks, we can get to the red tier,” Do-Reynoso said.

Also on Thursday, county public health officials stressed the importance of a flu vaccine. A flu shot is necessary to keep the community healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Paige Batson, the Public Health Department’s director of disease control and prevention.

A flu shot is recommended every year, but “this season, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu vaccine is especially important to protect yourself, your family and your community,” Batson said.

Last year, nine people “over the age of 65” in Santa Barbara County died of the flu, Batson said.

Health providers are taking additional precautions to ensure patient safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Batson said.

She had a clear message — “We urge you to not wait. Vaccinate.”

Click here to go to Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section.

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

Santa Barbara County Public Health DepartmentSept. 17

Difference from previous day

Total positive cases8,803+ 19
COVID-19-related deaths 109+ 0
COVID-19 patients in county hospitals28– 2
COVID-19 ICU patients7– 1
Total test results138,012+ 1,116
 New cases reported Sept. 17Active cases by areaTotal reported cases by areaDeaths reported by area
South County: Montecito, Summerland, Carpinteria011877
Santa Barbara and Mission Canyon4231,18313
Isla Vista7242071
Western Goleta Valley and Gaviota0101921
Santa Ynez Valley081425
Lompoc, Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills4227858
Lompoc federal correctional complex001,0243
Santa Maria4463,77859
North County: Guadalupe, Cuyama, New Cuyama, Garey, Casmalia, Sisquoc093855
Pending location0153070
Santa Barbara County total 191728,803109