Ron Werft, President and CEO of Cottage Health | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb each day, Cottage Health, the only hospital system in Santa Barbara’s South County, made the decision to offer its telemedicine services free to people who suspect they have COVID-19. 

Formerly $29 for an online consultation, patients with symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath — which sometimes indicate COVID-19 — or sore throat, runny nose, or nasal congestion — which connote the upper respiratory indicators for coronavirus — can visit for a free initial diagnosis. Patients in severe respiratory distress — i.e., they can’t breathe — should call 9-1-1 or visit the emergency room.

Prospective patients can access Cottage CareNow for the online consultation using a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Within an hour, they will be speaking to a Cottage nurse practitioner or to United Concierge Group doctors, all certified with Cottage Health. (A video consult continues to cost $39.)

Of the virus patients currently at Cottage, CEO Ron Werft reported, about half are in critical care. All are in isolation units with negative air pressure. The hospital which normally admits as many as 360 patients, now only has 160 patients, and has also located additional spaces, in order to free up as many as 270 beds for the anticipated surge of infection — predicted to be “many weeks away.” 

Werft mentioned Cottage’s appreciation for the donations it had received from the community, including hand-sewn masks: “For those in non-clinical areas with lower risk of exposure, the handmade masks our community provided are filling a need, and we are grateful.” As well as masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields, funds for childcare and other services have been donated as well, he said. Cottage VP David Dietrich will be handling an emergency response fund as needs emerge, said Werft, and he can be contacted at

On Monday, Cottage also released a statement thanking the community for food donations, but asked the public to do so through Kate Greene at for safety’s sake. In lieu of flowers, Cottage suggested digital cheer cards at

Correction: The initial version of this story stated both the online and video consultation were free; only the online consultation is free. A video consult is available for $39.


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