Eighth COVID-19 Death in Santa Barbara County, First Community Testing Site to Open

Key Room South Project Pulls Vulnerable Homeless off Streets and into Motels

County of Santa Barbara Homeless Assistance program manager Kimberlee Albers | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

There was good news and bad news reported from Santa Barbara County officials Wednesday. While the county is making immense progress expanding COVID-19 testing capabilities and housing homeless individuals vulnerable to the virus, they also reported another person died from it.

“We extend our condolences to the individual’s loved ones and everyone who has been impacted by this death,” said Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso. She said the person lived in Santa Maria and was in their sixties with preexisting health conditions when they died.

In addition to the eighth death, she also reported eight new cases countywide, bringing the total to 485. One of the infected individuals resides in Santa Barbara; one lives in Santa Maria; two live in Lompoc, including one case from the Lompoc Federal Prison; one lives in Orcutt; one lives in the unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama, and Guadalupe; and two are still pending their locations.

Of all 485 cases, 360 are fully recovered. As for those still sick, 81 people are recovering at home; 33 are recovering in a hospital, 11 of whom are in an intensive care unit; three are pending an update; and eight have died.

The seemingly impossible challenge the county has faced since day one of the pandemic is its paltry COVID-19 testing capacity that has held the state and the rest of the county back from reopening completely. Do-Reynoso flipped the switch on that narrative, announcing that beginning the week of May 4 the county will begin community-based testing.

“We’re now moving to the next phase of increasing testing within the county,” Do-Reynoso said. “We will expand access to nasal swab testing at a new COVID-19 community-based testing site in Santa Maria.”

Additional sites will open in Lompoc and Santa Barbara in the coming weeks. Approximately 135 tests can be administered per day, five days a week, for at least two weeks or longer if needed. 

A website and phone number will be available later this week where community members can see if they qualify. Health workers, other essential workers, and community members with symptoms can get tested by appointment only. The turnaround time for results is about 48 hours.

Kimberlee Albers, the county’s homeless assistance program manager, also highlighted progress her department has made.

Over 40 homeless individuals are now sheltered in motel rooms as part of an initiative called Room Key South. The initiative aims to shelter vulnerable homeless individuals who have not tested positive for the virus in a non-congregate setting so they can shelter in place. Wraparound services are provided with staff 12 hours a day.

She said the oldest guest is 77 years old, and another guest is moving into permanent housing this week. Those who are 65 and older with medical conditions, are under 65 with medical conditions, and are 65 and older with no health conditions are prioritized in that order. 

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