Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Henning Ansorg, MD update the community on the on going COVID-19 virus response in Santa Barbara March 23, 2020. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

The long-awaited rapid testing for COVID-19 is finally available in Santa Barbara County.

A Pacific Diagnostics Laboratory in the county will be able to test up to 10 people a day. That’s in addition to the tests processed by the state and by regional public health partners like Ventura County. This is the first lab in Santa Barbara County to be able to process local tests, and although it is only able to process a small number of tests per day, it’s speed is what makes the impact.

“[The lab] is able to provide a limited number of COVID-19 testing for our high-priority cases with same day results,” said the county’s public health officer Dr. Henning Ansorg at the Thursday press briefing. “We are very grateful for this development. It has already helped our local healthcare force immediately.”

The test has a turnaround time of five hours — the fastest so far. 

Ansorg also said that guidelines around the public’s use of face masks have changed. New data coming out of China shows that about 75 percent of people who tested positive for the nasal swab test and initially described themselves as asymptomatic eventually developed symptoms, which would suggest wearing a mask in public to be helpful in stopping the spread of the virus in densely populated areas. 

The Center for Disease Control updated their infectious period for the virus to begin 48 hours before symptom onset, the new category of patients are now known as “pre-symptomatic.” 

Because of this new development, the mask will protect the wearer from spreading the illness. The public health department and the CDC both advise the public to avoid using hospital-grade N-95 masks or surgical masks, which are needed by health-care professionals. A face covering of any kind, even a bandana, can be effective for those looking to go into a grocery store and protect themselves and others.

“Even a healthy person could potentially spread the virus before getting ill themselves,” Ansorg said. “In a densely populated area, wearing a face-covering mask of some kind would protect the public from accidental infection by an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”

There are 28 additional cases in Santa Barbara County today — a total of 139. Eleven of the new cases are in Santa Maria, five are in Orcutt, three are in unincorporated parts of North County, two are in Lompoc, one is in Santa Ynez, one is in Goleta, and five are in Santa Barbara. 

Of the total 139 cases, 81 are recovering at home, 24 have already fully recovered, 23 of them are in the hospital, 16 are in the intensive care unit, 10 are at home and their condition is currently unknown, and one person has died.

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