Santa Barbara County news conference on the coronavirus.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, left, Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County, Board of Supervisors Chair Gregg Hart and Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, provide an update Friday. about the coronavirus. (Courtesy photo)

The number of confirmed COVID-19/coronavirus cases in Santa Barbara County remained at nine as of Friday evening, but a leading medical official warned that with the increase in local cases, widespread community transmission is happening.

“This means we can no longer hope that the Santa Barbara area will be spared by this virus,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County.

“Social distancing is really the only option we have in order to slow down the progression of this contagion. This virus is very contagious, and nobody has any immunity to it. If we were to let the virus run its course, we would end up worse than Italy.”

In that scenario, without mitigation measures, 80 to 85 percent of the population would become sick within two months, and about 5 percent of those people would need to be hospitalized. 

“This would mean that our health care system would basically collapse,” Ansorg said. “In order to prevent this, we have to take social distancing really seriously. This will give us the chance that not as many people get sick at the same time.”

He also issued a stern warning to young people who might take a cavalier attitude toward the severity of the virus.

“I have seen pictures from beach parties and so forth, sometimes called COVID parties, and I strongly advise against any of this,” Ansorg said. “Unfortunately, this virus is quite capable of making younger and healthier people quite ill. The odds are in their favor; however, it is not unreasonable to believe that a younger person can get seriously ill.”

Even people with mild symptoms, who have not been tested, should self isolate, Ansorg said. 

Santa Barbara County had nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, and none of those people were seriously ill. 

“None of them had to be hospitalized,” Ansorg said. “They are well into recovery.”

Ansorg said the county is awaiting the results of about 200 COVID-19 tests, but that the number is actually higher because some testing is being done by private health labs. 

Under the statewide “shelter-at-home” order, people can still go outside for exercise, and walking their pets, as long as they practice social distancing, staying 6 feet away from other people. 

“We as community members need to stay in our homes, unless we are accessing essential services, such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks,” said Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. “We strongly encourage every member of the community to abide by the order so that we as a community can slow down the progression of COVID-19.”

Gregg Hart, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, said people must listen to the governor’s order and stay home. 

“This is the most serious threat as a community probably in our lifetimes, and it is extremely important that people take this message seriously,” Hart said. “It cannot be overstated. It cannot be repeated often enough. This is a significant public health emergency, and we urge everyone to comply with the public health order.”

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