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A positive COVID-19 patient was tested in Ventura County yesterday, one of six Venturans who had been passengers aboard the Grand Princess. The cruise ship is the disease nexus for the first novel coronavirus death in California, a man in his seventies who left the ship on February 21, the same date the Ventura passengers disembarked. Santa Barbara public health officials have received no reports of any local potential patients with the virus, Dr. Doug Metz said.
The Ventura patient’s results were being verified by the Centers for Disease Control, which has been taking several days to process COVID-19 tests. The patient’s spouse was also on the cruise and is not showing symptoms. Among the four other passengers, one has mild symptoms, Ventura County officials said.
The initial patient had not felt well since coming off the ship and had remained home, only leaving to visit the doctor. The doctor had the patient stay in the car and provide a specimen at the curb to limit possible exposure.
The Grand Princess returned to California after heading to Hawai‘i after February 21 and has been anchored offshore of the Golden Gate ever since. Twenty-one people aboard have tested positive so far, said Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the U.S. COVID-19 response, and 46 test kits were helicoptered to the ship. Since yesterday, California’s coronavirus cases rose from 60 statewide to 69. Five hundred more people were on the self-monitoring list after travel through San Francisco and Los Angeles airports.
In Santa Barbara, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health official, said two residents had been tested earlier for COVID-19 with negative results. Doctors had been reluctant to test the two, as their symptoms and profiles didn’t conform entirely to what is known about the disease, but enough doubt existed for them to want to rule out COVID-19, he said. Otherwise, no COVID-19 patients — suspected or confirmed — existed in Santa Barbara County as of this morning. The doctor also clarified that although Governor Newsom had ordered free testing, it was for potential COVID-19 patients, not curious citizens. Two commercial labs come online by next week to increase disease verification to 10,000 tests a day, he added.
Sansum’s urgent care centers were taking the extra measure of meeting possible coronavirus patients in the parking lot and escorting them to a designated area. Cottage Health’s emergency rooms are similarly asking patients to call the number on a sign at the door before entering. Staffers equipped with protective gear will help protect the potential patient and avoid exposing others in the ER.
Public Health, other medical providers, and county emergency personnel were working together as they did for emergencies like fire and flood, said Jan Koegler, Public Health’s emergency manager at a meeting this morning. Dispatch is asking about respiratory symptoms and travel in order to protect first responders, and her agency is visiting skilled nursing centers and staying in touch on a weekly basis. Kelly Hubbard, director of the county Office of Emergency Management, stated that if the county and Public Health were to make an emergency declaration in the coming days, its chief purpose would be to ensure resources were available to cover emergency measures.
As for the looming presence of the Grand Princess, which is set to arrive in Santa Barbara on March 24, Dr. Ansorg was well aware of the 3,500 passengers on board and 1,200 crew members. Of the 46 people who’d been tested on the cruise ship, 19 crew members and two passengers were positive for COVID-19, VP Pence announced. The ship is scheduled to dock this weekend in a “noncommercial port,” and all passengers and crew will reportedly be tested for the coronavirus. Dr. Ansorg said his agency was talking with the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state Office of Emergency Management and California Public Health officials to deal with the ship in a joint agency effort.
The Santa Barbara City Council will discuss the spring arrival of a dozen cruise ships at its March 10 meeting.