Ready for the Rush

By Andrew Firestone   |   May 21, 2020

Over the past 10 weeks, Santa Barbara, along with the rest of the world, has been paralyzed with fear over the scourge of COVID-19. People remain frozen in fear of venturing outside, of touching a foreign or unknown object, and in fear of coming within six feet of another person. As the medical community grapples with the disease and understanding those most at risk, our economy crumbles.

Like many Santa Barbarans, my wife and I volunteer to help those most vulnerable and most at risk who live with food and/or shelter insecurity, many of whom need family services and domestic abuse prevention help. This is the time of year when my weekend is generally spent hosting and auctioneering fundraisers, trying to help community organizations raise much-needed funds. But COVID-19 has canceled all such get-togethers. It now looks as though fundraisers this fall will be canceled as well, leaving organizations scrambling to meet their budgets. These non-profits work tirelessly to ensure that no family is without services and support, but are we forgetting them during this COVID-19 crisis?

The shelter-in-place order was intended “to flatten the curve” so that our healthcare system would not be overwhelmed. The media predicted rationed medical supplies, shortages of personnel and insufficient hospital beds, but the story turned out differently: Santa Barbara’s nimble and flexible healthcare professionals reacted quickly and repositioned resources where needed. No one was denied treatment. Cottage quickly set aside portions of its hospital and prepared for a rush of COVID-19 patients. Cal Poly’s 900-bed Alternative Care Site was constructed in record time.

Fortunately, as of today, there are only 10 patients recovering in the ICU. Was this an overreaction? Absolutely not. We faced a virus we didn’t understand so we prepared for the worst. Meanwhile, these past two months provided critical data to identify who was at risk for fatality and how to protect them.

Months ago, we discovered that anyone could become infected and anyone could be killed by the virus. We now know the first is true but we also know that the disease largely preys on a specific at-risk group: the elderly and those with certain medical conditions. With precious few exceptions, the young and healthy remain asymptomatic or suffer simple flu symptoms. A 40-year-old with underlying medical conditions should not be lulled into thinking this is a disease of the aged or infirm, as this virus preys mercilessly on the at-risk group and we must continue to protect them.

We now have tens of thousands of Santa Barbara County residents out of work and relying on government support. Each day, more and more businesses are closing their doors and leaving countless employees searching for work. There is little chance of a swift and sudden recovery given the structural damage to our economy as our reaction to COVID-19 continues to crush local businesses. Most importantly, it has created enormous pressure on countless families in our community who are already at risk, not for COVID-19, but for myriad other socio-economic issues.

The time to act is now.

Life is not without its risks: we make the decision to venture onto roads and highways knowing that 38,000 people will die annually in horrific accidents. We must focus on the data that identifies who is at risk and who is not. We must have the courage to venture out and protect our economy and our society. With courage, we can protect those at risk of COVID-19 fatality while not forgetting those vulnerable residents dependent on our charity and outreach. We can take measures to ensure employees and customers feel safe. I pray that our governor and local officials will take immediate steps to allow businesses to return, while sheltering and protecting the at-risk group.


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