Coronavirus Panic Comes to Montecito

By Bob Hazard   |   March 12, 2020

By far, the hottest topic in Montecito this week is the fear of the coronavirus and its rapid spread around the world. Anxiety is high because we are all being warned by the media that the coronavirus has not yet peaked.

Social Distancing

Wherever cases are reported, the cry escalates for “social distancing,” which means creating a space of at least six feet between you and any other person on the planet.

Clearly, no hugs or handshakes. Abandon all airline, cruise, and bus travel. Cancel all sporting events, including the Olympics in Japan. No kissing, but any other form of sex is ok, as long as participants remain six feet apart. Limit all social gatherings – all concerts and theatres, mall visits, private parties, parades, conventions and dining out in restaurants. Close all schools and encourage employees to work from home. Create a nation of hermits to limit the spread of the disease and destroy the U.S. economy.

Panic Shopping for Essentials

Costco in Goleta reports that consumer panic has wiped out all supplies of toilet paper, sanitary wipes and sprays, paper towels, facial tissues, hand sanitizers, chicken soup, and cases of water. The same is true of all grocery stores in Santa Barbara as residents stock up for a presumed 14- to 21-day isolation period at home when the first confirmed case of coronavirus reaches Santa Barbara.

Starbucks Coffee Employees Scared

Starbucks on Coast Village Road has stopped serving coffee poured into their customers’ re-usable beverage containers. For the last three years, Starbucks had been promoting coffee sales in customer containers to be environmentally conscious and save trees. The new fear is employee exposure to coronavirus contamination.

MUS and Cold Spring School Ready

Both elementary schools report no plans for closures at this time. Anthony Ranii, Superintendent Montecito Union School, and Dr. Amy Alzina, Superintendent and Principal at Cold Spring School District, note that both districts are working collaboratively with Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD) regarding all issues related to the coronavirus.

If the coronavirus is reported in Montecito or Santa Barbara area, SBCPHD would advise on the type and duration of closures that would be needed in order to protect students, teachers, administrators, and the community. Says Ranii, “We do not expect school closures, but if they are required, we would provide for some remote learning opportunities for our students.”

Dr. Alzina adds: “Robust emergency supplies are available at every school site. Both school sites have increased the number of hours the custodial staff is working to ensure every classroom and all common areas are properly sanitized daily. In addition, school staff is actively encouraging healthy habits like hand washing, proper coughing technique, and the need to keep hands away from one’s face. School sites do not currently have access to coronavirus testing kits, but school nurses regularly take the temperature of students who feel ill and encourage all sick students and staff members to stay home if they are not feeling well.”

College Campus Closures

UC Santa Barbara reports no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, either on campus or in Santa Barbara County. Therefore, no closing of classrooms is currently planned.

The University of Southern California (USC) also has had no reported cases of COVID-19 on campus. It decided to shift classes to “online-only” for three days this week to test USC’s ability to move to an all-online model, if an emergency arises. Next week, USC shuts down for its regularly scheduled Spring Break.

USC has brought home students who are studying in countries that have reached the CDC’s Level 3 for COVID-19 infections. It also cancelled all Spring and Maymester study-abroad programs. Students, faculty and staff have been strongly advised against any international travel during Spring Break, including travel to popular destinations such as Cabo San Lucas and Cancun in Mexico. The University is requiring all international travelers from CDC Level 3 countries to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to a campus location.

Stanford University is canceling all in-person classes for the final two weeks of the winter quarter. All large events are to be “canceled or adjusted.” The move comes after a faculty member tested positive for the virus. Santa Clara County, the home of Stanford, reported that the number of coronavirus cases has risen from 14 to 20 as of last weekend.

Sansum Clinic, Cottage Hospital, and the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Overwhelmed by Patients Seeking Testing

All three medical providers report that the most common initial symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, cough, and shortness of breath – are the same symptoms as any other cold virus or flu. There is no available vaccine, nor are there any medications specifically designed to prevent or cure the coronavirus.

All frontline facilities are reporting a spike in walk-ins and calls for testing appointments. There are currently no coronavirus test kits at Cottage or Sansum until later this week. Priority testing will go to those areas with reported coronavirus cases. By the end of this week, some four million test kits will be released in the U.S. After receipt of test kits, medical practitioners still need to be trained on how to use them. The entire process could take days or weeks.

The problem is (and will be) that medical personnel in hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers are so overwhelmed with requests for testing that they can no longer serve their normal heavy workload. As new patients with flu-like fevers, runny noses, and coughs flood waiting rooms, normal emergency patients are put at greater risk with longer wait times.

Even worse, flu patients who should stay home in bed are putting the whole health care system of medical professionals at greater risk. Short term, clinics and ER rooms are posting screeners at their front door to advise patients that “those who are well, and those with normal flu should go home, get in bed, and act just like they would for normal flu.”

Some who have been in crowds and fear exposure are asking for testing. Unfortunately, anyone who wants testing to reassure that they are un-infected, would need to be re-tested every day to truly monitor potential exposure.

Long term, both Sansum and Cottage are evaluating drive-up windows for testing, like the system used in South Korea, where patients drive up to a health professional dressed in a Haz-Mat suit. Patients would be given swab sticks without entering the waiting room or being exposed to other patients or medical staff.

Bottom Line

The coronavirus risk is very low for those under 65. It is even lower for those under 21. Don’t panic. Keep calm. Play it safe.


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