County to Develop Reopening Plan
On Tuesday, April 21, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors received an update from local health officials and executives regarding the status of COVID-19 in our area. In addition to hearing updated case numbers, the Board was given detailed demographic data for the positive COVID-19 cases, which up until this point, had not been released to the public.
As of Monday, the county has 416 positive COVID-19 cases, 96 of which are located in the federal prison in Lompoc. Five percent (21) of the positive cases are in the unincorporated areas of the South County, including Montecito, Summerland, and the City of Carpinteria. The County has reported four deaths from the outbreak, the latest being an over 60-year-old prisoner in Lompoc. “Even though the cases are growing incrementally, it is on a downward trend,” said Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, who said the County has seen a lower number of cases than predicted in earlier models. She credits the stay-at-home order, as well as community efforts to adhere to physical distancing as pertinent reasons for the lower number of cases.
The newly-released demographic data shows that the disease has had the greatest effect on the Hispanic and Latino community, showing 61% of cases are within that demographic. 31% of the cases are in the Caucasian population; 2% are African American; 1% are Asian; .5% are American Indian; .5% are Native American or Pacific Islander; 2% are multiracial, and 2% of survey participants refused to answer. Dr. Do-Reynoso also released data related to insurance coverage of affected individuals, their primary language, their income and education levels, where they learned about the virus, and their knowledge of handwashing and social distancing before their sickness began. That data can be found online at www.publichealthsbc.org/.
The data shows that the Hispanic and Latino segment of infected individuals represents a disproportionately higher number of cases compared to their representation in Santa Barbara population. Dr. Do-Reynoso said efforts will continue in order to reach community members whose primary language is Spanish.
Discussion ensued among the Board and health officials regarding reopening the community, which Dr. Do-Reynoso could happen after a consistent decline in new cases of the virus. Actions that must be aligned to achieve reopening include ensuring the ability to care for the sick in hospitals, preventing infection in those with a high risk of disease, building the capacity to protect the health and wellbeing of the public, and reducing social, emotional, and economic disruptions. “When we see the cases and the hospitalizations consistently decrease over a fourteen-day period, that is the benchmark other jurisdictions have used in order to consider elective procedures and to clarify recreational activities that can take place,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said of neighboring counties in Ventura and San Luis Obispo. “That will be our benchmark as well: when we can see a consistent decrease in the number of cases and hospitalization in a period of fourteen days.” Dr. Do-Reynoso went on to say the reopening would be in alignment with the Governor Newsom’s roadmap of reopening, which includes the ability to monitor and protect the community through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed; the ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe cases; the ability of the hospital and health system to handle surges; the ability to develop therapeutics to meet demand; the ability for businesses, schools, and childcare facilities to support social distancing; and the ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.
County Assistant CEO Nancy Anderson went on to explain that her staff, along with a stakeholder group and consultants, will be developing a strategic, phased reopening plan that complies with national and state guidance over the next four to six weeks. The group will include business leaders, school representatives, and medical professionals, who will outline the best approach for reopening the community. The plan will be reviewed and approved by both the public health director and the Board of Supervisors. “This is a significant project that will involve many in our community,” she said.
Several members of the Board of Supervisors voiced concern over the estimate of four to six weeks in which to develop a plan. “We are in the process of self-inducing a depression,” said Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam. “I would recommend at least interpreting the Governor’s orders as liberally as possible, and opening our economy as soon as possible, fully,” he said.
Montecito resident Cori Hayman, calling in during the public comment period, said the following: “We cannot wait for a stakeholder advisory group and delay our transition into the next phase of the pandemic by four to six weeks. The delay is not supported by the data: hospitalizations are down, and fatalities are very low. Our neighboring counties have already recognized that it is time to transition to less disruptive public health and social distancing measures based on similar data. We need not trail them by several weeks; we do not have the luxury of waiting four to six weeks to begin gradually reopening our economy,” she said.
“As the UCSB Economic Forecast made abundantly clear last week, our County is in economic collapse, and we know that people are not getting the healthcare they need for non-COVID-19 conditions. Every day that passes under the stay-at-home order now makes matters worse for our County and not better. We need the Board to move much more quickly and reopen our economy,” Hayman said.
To stay up-to-date on Covid-19 numbers and plans for reopening, visit www.publichealthsbc.org/.