Santa Barbara County suffered a letdown last week after getting slammed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s unexpectedly harsh criteria for reopening businesses. But county officials are pushing hard to be granted an exception.
One of the governor’s strictest conditions requires that there are no COVID-19 deaths in the county for at least 14 consecutive days, which has not happened once since the outbreak began. The Lompoc Federal Prison is the statistical outlier, as 893 of the county’s 1,362 total cases are prison inmates or prison staff.
But the state doesn’t view the prison’s cases as an outlier. In fact, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart called the state Public Health Department’s reaction to the county’s request to separate the prison’s cases “not encouraging to the county’s point of view.” And although the County Public Health Department is responsible for reporting the prison’s positive cases, it has no authority to treat them.
“Yesterday, the number of active cases in Santa Barbara County steadily declined to 61, outside of the numbers from the Lompoc Prison,” Hart said. “Unfortunately, with the new reported cases over the past few days from the prison, the total number of active cases in our county has risen to 825. The County of Santa Barbara is continuing to try to work with prison authorities to learn more about what is going on at the prison and to offer our assistance to better manage the situation.”
The prison administration has so far “rebuffed” the county’s offer to assist with the outbreak, Hart said last week. The administration has also been secretive with the county, the media, and families of inmates about the status of the outbreak in the prison.
The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday to send a letter asking the governor to allow the county to separate community cases from inmate cases, and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymembers Monique Limón and Jordan Cunningham are lobbying for the same. Hart also said that the community can make an impact by sending letters to the governor himself, sending letters of support to the aforementioned state legislators, and voicing their sentiments at the Board of Supervisors meetings.
But Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg didn’t share the same focus as Hart. While he agreed that it is important to separate the prison cases from the data to fully understand the spread of the disease in the community, he made it clear that the county can’t measure up to the governor’s standards even if he grants the county variance to his criteria.
“The prison count is really not the only statistical hurdle that we are facing,” Ansorg said. “As I mentioned before, we are still having way more than 45 cases every two weeks. It is up to all of us, excluding the prison inmates, to stay vigilant and protect ourselves and our neighbors so that these numbers start to go down more.
“I really urge everyone to not focus on the prison so much, because it’s not our only hurdle.”
He stressed that hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks in public spaces, and staying at home unless you are an essential worker or are running an essential errand are still critical practices to be able to fully open up the economy.
Shopping at the low-risk retail businesses that have opened, though, is still encouraged as long as residents continue to stick to social-distancing guidelines. Hart said over the weekend he ordered flowers from White House Florists for his mother on Mother’s Day, ordered a few books through the Chaucer’s Bookstore website, bought a Scrabble game from Bennett’s Toys, and bought takeout from the Mesa Café.
“All the local businesses I visited were trying very hard to keep customers safe,” Hart said. “They were being thoughtful and careful, and they deserve our loyalty and support. It’s time, especially now, to make a conscious choice about where we spend our discretionary dollars.”
Ansorg reported that the three community-based testing sites, which opened last week, are now operating in full swing and have collectively administered approximately 1,200 tests. Due to early “glitches” in the testing chain, most of the tests have not yet been reflected in the daily case counts, but he said he believes that they will be by the end of the week.
There were 54 new cases reported in Santa Barbara County on Monday. Forty of them are inmates at the prison, 13 are residents in Santa Maria, and one is a resident of Santa Barbara. There is a data lag between the Federal Bureau of Prisons case reports and the county case reports. The county reported that so far, there have been 893 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19. The BOP reported 912 inmate cases and 25 prison staff cases as of Monday.
Of the total 1,362 cases county-wide, 474 have recovered; 477 are recovering outside of a hospital; 37 are in a hospital, 10 of which are in an intensive care unit; 363 cases are pending information; and 11 have died.