Increased COVID Testing a Major Milestone for Santa Barbara County

Free Public Testing Part of Reopening Transition, Deputies on Horseback to Patrol Beaches

Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Dr. Henning Ansorg | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

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“This virus doesn’t take the weekend off, and it doesn’t go home if it’s a sunny, beautiful day along our coasts,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom a few days before he closed Orange County beaches on Thursday. As Southern California heads into another warm weekend, Supervisor Gregg Hart quoted the governor and praised Santa Barbarans for taking the virus in stride, at the Friday afternoon COVID presser. He also warned that sheriff’s deputies would be patrolling beaches by horseback and all-terrain vehicle from Gaviota to the Rincon to explain that physical distancing is required, even outdoors.

“We can focus on the negative and lash out,” said Hart, “or be calm and carry on.” Though a small cavalry of honking vehicles had passed through Santa Barbara earlier that day, no mention was made of their objections to facemask fearmongering and the stay-at-home order.

The Friday numbers for the county were no new deaths — though eight have succumbed thus far — 10 new individuals tested positive, 60 people were recovering at home, and 36 were in the hospital, 14 of them in an intensive care ward. The county had a total of 506 cases.

More cases are bound to be discovered, as three free testing sites for the general public will open next week, the first in Santa Maria on May 5. County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said their target was 500-650 tests per day. (See “S.B. County Begins Community Testing” for more.) One hundred people were being trained to assist with the contact tracing that will follow in order to prevent the spread of disease, said Paige Batson, County Public Health’s director of community health.

Dr. Ansorg called the increase in testing a major milestone in a transition to reopening the county. Physical distancing and good hand hygiene were going to remain in place, but when it came to face coverings, he said, there was insufficient scientific evidence to make them mandatory. They remained a recommendation, however, especially for food purveyors.

Batson also traded words with reporters asking for an update on Lompoc Penitentiary. She was adamant that prison officials had been cooperative in reporting cases to Public Health; she did not disclose recent infection numbers. As for the medical facility that was to be stood up on prison grounds last Friday, Batson said she had not received any update. Privately, some county officials have expressed frustration at prison authorities’ tight-lipped refusal to communicate.

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