As Santa Barbara County officially entered phase two of Governor Gavin Newsom’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy Friday, it also was hit with an unexpected blow — the governor’s newly released criteria to move through phase two were harsher than expected.
“The new state regulations are much more restrictive than the governor implied earlier in the week,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said at a Friday press conference. “The first and most strict condition is that there must not be a single COVID-19 death in the county for at least 14 days. The sad truth is that there has not been a single 14-day period in our county with no COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.”
But there’s a twist. The outbreak at the Lompoc Federal Prison greatly skews the total number of cases in the county. Though the county is responsible for tracking and reporting the prison’s cases, only the Federal Bureau of Prisons has the authority to treat them. So far, the prison hasn’t been transparent with the county, families of inmates, or media reporters.
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“While our Public Health Department continues to try and assist the prison to manage the outbreak, we have been consistently rebuffed by prison authorities,” Hart said.
According to the most recent report on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, the Lompoc Federal Prison so far has 823 inmates who have tested positive out of the 2,704 total inmates. Two of them are reported to have died from the virus. There are also 25 prison staff reported to have tested positive for the virus. Though the facility is providing data on positive tests and the number of inmates who have recovered, it isn’t releasing information about hospitalizations, not even to inmates’ families or the Public Health Department.
Hart said he is working with Congressman Salud Carbajal and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to work to get access to the prison and find out what is happening, adding that the prison’s secrecy is “disturbing.”
He said he has asked state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymembers Monique Limón and Jordan Cunningham to lobby the governor to allow Santa Barbara County to be measured against his reopening standards without including the prison outbreak figures.
He added that while only a few rural counties in the state will likely meet the governor’s new expectations, defying the order to open up businesses faster like Modoc, Sutter, and Yuba counties have is not an option on the table for Santa Barbara County.
“Some elected officials around the state have argued that counties should simply defy the governor’s order and do what they want,” Hart said. “Governor Newsom today reminded local governments that have already exceeded the limits of his statewide stay-at-home order that they are putting at risk billions of dollars of financial reimbursement in disaster assistance funds.”
Dr. Henning Ansorg also gave an update on the county’s status with COVID-19 cases. He reported two additional deaths — both in Lompoc. One individual resided in the City of Lompoc and was in their sixties with underlying health conditions, and the other individual was an inmate at prison and was in their seventies with underlying health conditions and died Wednesday.
In addition to the 10th and 11th deaths, Ansorg reported 311 additional cases, all but one of which were inmates at the prison. The non-prison case is an individual who resides in Santa Maria.
Overall, Ansorg reported, there are 1,032 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County, 582 of which are at the Federal Prison in Lompoc; 450 of which are community cases; and 463 of which have fully recovered. He also addressed the mysterious discrepancy between the county’s reports of infected inmates and the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports.
“We report the numbers that our disease control team are able to process by noon in any given day,” Ansorg explained. “As we are receiving large amounts of data from the prison, it is inevitably taking much longer to process all of the information.”
He also added that because all three community testing sites have opened and are testing every day including weekends, so higher numbers of infected community members outside the prison will soon be reflected in the daily case reports.
But in “good news,” Hart said, some retail businesses began opening for pickup and delivery today — a small but meaningful move in the right direction. He said clothing stores, bookstores, toy stores, music stores, and florists have partially opened for business in town. He encouraged residents to call one of the businesses and order something to pick up this weekend.
“I have had many heart-wrenching conversations with local business owners who are clinging to hope that their businesses will survive this historically tough economic time,” Hart said. “I believe many of us can’t wait to support our local businesses and their employees.”
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