Health Officer: ‘Be Patient and Stay the Course’

Ansorg Bullish that State Will Change Criteria for Reopening

Dr. Henning Ansorg, Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Santa Barbara officials urged residents to grin and bear the stay-at-home order a while longer as the state updates and refines its criteria for allowing individual counties to reopen their economies. “We encourage you to be patient and stay the course,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg.

Supervisor Gregg Hart reiterated much of what was discussed during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, mainly that Governor Newsom’s current set of specifications ― requiring local jurisdictions to report zero COVID-19 deaths and no more than 45 positive cases in a 14-day period ― precludes Santa Barbara County from easing restrictions anytime soon. The Board sent a letter to Newsom’s office asking him to modify the metrics so that counties can reopen if they report a less than 10 percent positivity rate in tests and a less than 2 percent mortality rate. 

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The Board also asked that the Lompoc prison outbreak, where inmates are testing above a 70 percent positivity rate, be separated from the rest of Santa Barbara’s community data. “Santa Barbara County cannot be held responsible for the coronavirus outbreak among incarcerated persons because we have no authority over prison operations,” Hart said. 

Hart underscored the disappointment Santa Barbara leaders felt last week upon hearing Newsom’s criteria, which are stricter than what he’d originally suggested and affords individual jurisdictions less discretion in when and how to reopen their businesses. In the meantime, the county and its cities have convened a planning group of elected officials, their staff, and business partners to roll out the reopening process as quickly and efficiently as possible once they get the green light, Hart said.

Newsom said he may have another announcement as soon as next week, Hart noted. But in the meantime, he said, “This is the most up-to-date information that we have. Please don’t be surprised if the information changes, because the only thing we can count on in this extraordinary time is uncertainty.”

Ansorg seemed bullish that the metrics may in fact change as the leaders of Santa Barbara and many other California counties have requested. “Just earlier this afternoon, I had a very constructive conversation with our state health officials about the seemingly strict requirements for being allowed to reopen at a faster pace,” he said. “The state reassured me that these requirements were never intended to be a permanent measure, and the plan is for these to get adjusted as soon as safely possible.”

Ansorg was happy to report that hospitalizations and ICU needs in Santa Barbara remain steady, and that the region’s healthcare centers are operating well below their capacity. The soft opening of certain businesses last Friday is being closely monitored for any spike in new infections, but so far, he said, “We have not seen any indication that we need to be concerned about a rise in cases.”

The Public Health Department, in consultation with infectious disease experts, is also in the process of drafting a “concrete set of guidelines” for businesses to safely reopen. “We are very pleased that this report will be published very soon,” Ansorg said.

Santa Barbara County announced six new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. None of them were at the Lompoc prison.

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