Grief, Faith, and $1,000 Fines Discussed at COVID-19 Briefing

Santa Barbara Officials Strike a Somber Yet Hopeful Tone as Numbers Keep Rising

"May our hard-learned lessons be remembered when this storm has passed,” said Father John Hedges. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

“I think it’s important to put a word on the feeling we are all experiencing at this moment,” said Supervisor Gregg Hart to kick off Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing. “The word is grief. By giving this feeling a name, I believe it will help us manage the stress and anxiety we are all experiencing.”

Hart went on to quote from a recent Harvard Business Review interview with grief expert David Kessler. “We’re feeling a number of different griefs,” Kessler stated. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Kessler’s recommendations for managing grief are to acknowledge it, understand it has stages, and move through it, Hart said. But the stages of grief aren’t linear. We don’t all move through them at the same speed. Each of us must find our own way individually and collectively as a community.

Fortunately, Hart went on, “Our community has demonstrated that it is strong and resilient.” We have weathered very difficult challenges together and emerged stronger and more united.

And, “we will prevail and prosper through this pandemic,” he said. “This sense of united purpose we are creating together, the recognition that we can do very hard things together, and the kindness and compassion we show each other will give long-lasting meaning to this event.”

In between Hart’s words of solidarity and the spiritually uplifting comments from Father Jon Hedges later in the briefing, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Health Department, delivered the latest COVID-19 statistics. Fifteen new cases have been reported, she said, bringing the county’s total cases to 243. Forty patients are in the hospital, with 18 in the ICU. There have been no additional deaths beyond the two previously announced.

Do-Reynoso also discussed the expanded Medi-Cal coverage that Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday. Under the emergency provisions, she said, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms ― regardless of their insurance or immigration status ― can get tested at the county’s five care centers, or at an emergency room. And they can do so without ever receiving a bill, she said.

The California Department of Public Health released data Thursday on the racial demographics of COVID-19 patients, which fell roughly in line with the state’s overall diversity. Latinos (39 percent of California’s population) account for 30 percent of the 18,309 confirmed cases and 26 percent of the 492 deaths. Whites (37 percent of the population) account for 34 percent of cases and 38 percent of deaths. Asians (15 percent) are 13 percent of cases and 18 percent of deaths, and African Americans (6 percent) reflect 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively. 

Do-Reynoso, donning a facemask per the new CDC recommendation, said Santa Barbara would be releasing its racial demographic data late next week. She also said the county continues to follow state health guidelines, and will update its policies if and when the state does so.

Sheriff Bill Brown commended the “amazing job” county residents have done so far to comply with the stay-at-home order. And he said the results are already showing a slightly flattened curve. But, Brown cautioned, that doesn’t mean we should be any less diligent, especially now. “This weekend is Passover and Easter Sunday,” he said, “a time when many of us traditionally gather with our families and our friends to celebrate our faith, to gather for worship, and to congregate after in groups. Please realize we cannot do that this year.” Instead, Brown said, watch an online service or connect with people by video chat.

Sheriff Bill Brown

New signs have been posted at county parks and beaches reminding visitors of the state’s social distancing order, which strictly prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people. Even in small groups, the mandate says, keep six feet of distance between yourself and others. Brown said rangers and lifeguards will be keeping an eye on things, and violators could be fined up to $1,000.

Father Jon Hedges of St. Anthanasius Orthodox Church provided a rare religious perspective to the government presentation. “Can it be that in our season of distancing we discover somehow the very purest essence of our community?” he sermonized. “Can it be that as we are asked to fast from contact we may connect more fully with all?” 

Hedges thanked “our brave warrior champions in armor of cotton ― the doctors, nurses, techs, EMS, fire, law enforcement, and, yes, delivery persons, janitors, grocers, pharmacists, and those with tears who must care for those we have lost.” If there’s some benefit to this crisis, Hedges continued, “it is that in this holy season, we all have been given a holy opportunity to embrace a deeper, broader community that is beyond anything parochial, that is beyond anything partisan.”

“May our hard-learned lessons be remembered when this storm has passed,” he said. “As this has been a season when we must refrain from embracing, one day we shall again embrace with even greater joy.”


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