Santa Barbara Health Officer: ‘We Now Have Widespread Community Infection’

Protective Equipment for Doctors and Nurses in Short Supply

Dr. Henning Ansorg updates the community on the ongoing COVID-19 response in Santa Barbara. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County remains at nine, officials announced Friday. But based on the timing and transmission methods of known infections ― and the predicted disbursement of unknown cases ― it has become clear, “We now have widespread community infection,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg. “We can no longer hope Santa Barbara will be spared by this virus.” Testing kits are still in short supply and the turnaround time for results remains slow. More than 200 local test results are pending.

Ansorg said the county’s best hope moving forward is strict adherence to California’s new shelter-at-home order, as well as continued social distancing. If we allowed the regional outbreak to run its course without the safety measures, he explained, an estimated 85 percent of Santa Barbara’s population would get sick in the next two months, with 5 percent of the infected likely requiring hospitalization. That translates to around 19,000 Santa Barbarans suddenly needing critical care. “It would mean our health-care system would basically collapse,” Ansorg warned. “We would be worse off than Italy.”

Ansorg said he’s seen photos of beach gatherings and what some are calling “COVID parties.” “I urge the younger generation to take this seriously,” he said. Not only could young residents pass the coronavirus to each other and then further into the community, but they themselves could become very ill, as well, he said. And while social distancing may seem like a “crude” precaution given all the “fancy medications and fancy tests” now at the disposal of doctors, Ansorg continued, “it’s unfortunately the only method we have to slow this down.”

Jan Koegler, an emergency preparedness manager with the Public Health Department, said health-care providers across Santa Barbara County are reporting shortages of personal protection equipment for doctors and nurses, including N-95 masks, goggles, gloves, and gowns. Koegler said they’ve raided the department’s cache of supplies, are asking the state for help, and have received some assistance from Direct Relief, but at the current rate of use the remaining equipment could be exhausted by the end of the month. 

Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department, also emphasized the state order. “It really means that we as community members need to stay at our homes unless we are accessing essential services,” she said. However, she went on, residents can still go outside, take walks, and get some exercise, as long as they keep their distance from one another. She encouraged anyone with lingering questions about the order or those wanting the latest COVID-19 information for Santa Barbara County to visit the Public Health Department website

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