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The elbow and fist bumps we’ve learned to substitute for handshakes and hugs in an attempt to ward off catching COVID-19 may help us stay healthy. But with COVID-19 cases incubating on the West Coast, County Public Health announced on Saturday the steps to take “out of an abundance of caution” for businesses, groups, agencies, and health-care providers by Monday to protect Santa Barbara County.
“We want to be prepared,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s chief medical officer. “The discovery of community transmission elsewhere in the state makes me feel that COVID-19 could arrive in our county at any time.”
Public Health officials confirmed no person in the county was under investigation for the virus, for which the tests take several days. As well, in the county just south of Santa Barbara, one confirmed and one possible case was announced on Friday by Ventura County health authorities; both were previously passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship.
The ship, previously scheduled for Santa Barbara on March 24, will be emptied of passengers at the Port of Oakland, officials announced on Sunday. One passenger, a 75-year-old man from Placer County, died after disembarking on February 21; a second death, a man in Sunnyvale, is under investigation. Turned back while headed for Hawai’i, the Grand Princess anchored offshore on Thursday and held about 1,000 Californians. The sick will be taken to medical facilities; state residents will go to an in-state federal facility for quarantine; non-state-residents will go to an out-of-state quarantine facility; and the crew will stay on board. Once the passengers disembark, the ship will return to sea.
On Saturday, California raised its total confirmed COVID-19 cases to 88 patients from 69 the day before. The death toll remained at one. By comparison, influenza had claimed 516 lives in California since last September. A fear of the new coronavirus has swept the country, but the Centers for Disease Control counts about 34 million people affected by dozens of other types of flu viruses, which have caused 20,000 deaths since last fall. As of Saturday, the CDC’s national count of COVID-19 cases stood at 54 — and excluded patients airlifted from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began in December — but the New York Times counted 446 persons and 19 deaths nationwide. Internationally, the World Health Organization noted 46 new Chinese cases on Sunday, down from a high of 14,000 on February 13.
Dr. Ansorg stressed social-distancing plans in Santa Barbara County were not for immediate implementation, but rather to urge companies and groups to look at staffing in terms of having fewer people in one place at one time. Staying six feet apart from one another was a previous recommendation. Churches could consider live streaming, the doctor suggested, or asking congregants to sit farther apart. Medical sites can speak with patients via video calling.
“The cancellation of large, nonessential gatherings is a possibility down the line,” Dr. Ansorg said, advocating for creativity, flexibility, and sensitivity in implementing social distancing.
In the meantime, coronavirus information and updates are at countyofsb.org/phd/ and information can be heard at (805) 681-4373. Among the precautions each person can take are:
• Wash your hands with soap and water
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• Stay away from work, school, or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.