Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.
Thousands of Central Coast residents will retain access to their current doctors and hospitals, including Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, after Anthem Blue Cross and Dignity Health announced Monday that they have reached a new contract agreement. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County experienced its first death from the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, Public Health officials announced at an afternoon press briefing.

The person who died was a North County resident in their 60s, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer.

The patient, who had underlying health conditions, passed away at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Ansorg said, and had been on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

No further details about the patient, including their name, were released.

The announcement of the first local death came as the number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus rose to 111.

Of those, 17 people are currently hospitalized, including 13 in intensive care units. 

Twenty-three of the county’s positive cases have fully recovered, and 65 more are recovering at home, said Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director.

Officials did not know the condition of six others.

“I am saddened to report we now have our first COVID-19 death in Santa Barbara County,” said Gregg Hart, Second District county supervisor. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends who are grieving the loss of their loved one today.”

Hart said the seriousness of the moment drives home the need for people to adhere to social-distancing rules.

Ansorg also expressed his grief.

Second District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart and Von Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health officer.

Second District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart and Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health officer, announced a death from COVID-19 at a press conference Wednesday. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“I am saddened to hear that we had our first COVID-19 death in Santa Barbara County,” Ansorg said. 

He added that hospitals in the county are not at maximum capacity, and all sites have the ability to expand. Still, officials are creating a plan in case there’s a surge in the need for hospital beds.

Ansorg said the public health department is actively securing sites that can receive additional patients. 

The county is not expecting to need alternative care sites through April or May, he said, but talks are ongoing about using the old Lompoc Hospital.

He also said the county has about 85 ventilators available.

Also on Wednesday, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said that a sheriff’s deputy is recovering at home after testing positive for COVID-19. The deputy is assigned to patrol at the Santa Maria Station and last worked on Saturday. The deputy tested positive on Tuesday.

They are the sixth Sheriff’s Office employee to test positive for COVID-19. 

Alana Walczak, chief executive officer of CALM, said at the press briefing that child-welfare social workers are seeing a decrease in the number of reports of child abuse, but that is because of the shelter-at-home order. 

“The professionals who usually have their eyes on our kids right now, elementary school teachers, preschool teachers, are not with students, and students are sheltering in place at homes and we know that not all homes are safe for every child,” Walczak said. 

She added that much is being asked of parents right now, and she offered some tips for ways to ease anxiety.

“Spending time in nature, while practicing social distancing, checking in with family and friends, and trying to spend quality time with children,” Walczak said. “For kids, the most important factor for building resilience is a healthy connection to a loving adult.”

Cottage Health is caring for 135 patients and has 238 hospital beds still available. The hospital has identified capacity for adding 270 acute-care beds.

Of the 135 patients, 11 patients are on ventilators and 49 ventilators remain available; 26 patients are in isolation for COVID-19 symptoms. Of those, seven patients are in critical care.

Cottage has collected 1,046 cumulative test samples: 52 resulted in positive, 790 resulted in negative, and 204 are pending.

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