‘Avoid Travel,’ Public Health Says to County Residents

Health Officials Foresee ‘Nightmare Scenario’ if Holiday Travelers Return with COVID-19

Dr. Henning Ansorg describes a nightmarish concern over super-spreaders if they were to return to Santa Barbara County after holiday travel. | Credit: Courtesy CSBTV20

Public Health officials gave county residents a strong warning ahead of the holiday season, highly concerned that visits and traveling will lead to a surge in cases of coronavirus this winter. “This year has to be different. Avoid travel,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s Health Officer, discussing a “nightmare scenario” that could unfold.

“More than 90 percent of all the people in Santa Barbara County are still susceptible and at risk of catching the virus,” Ansorg said on Friday during a county press conference. Hotspots of disease around the United States could lead to a worst-case scenario if people visiting those areas became infected, brought it back home with them, and then spread it further. “That’s how a virus creates huge pandemics,” Ansorg said.

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To keep that from happening, Ansorg emphasized that customary family visits and crowded gatherings should be avoided this year in order “to protect ourselves and our loved ones.” The means of protection were already known, Ansorg added, saying firmly: “Keep at a distance, avoid gatherings, avoid travel, wear a mask, and wash your hands frequently.”

What they knew about the coronavirus is that it spread easily from person to person and remained suspended in the air, Ansorg said. The virus could travel farther than six feet and still be contagious. In addition to most people in the county still being susceptible to COVID-19, Ansorg said the vast majority of new infections came from people who did not know they were contagious. “About 8 percent of these contagious individuals function as so-called super-spreaders,” Ansorg explained, “who cause about 60 percent of all new infections. There is no way to know if a person who is physically close to you might be infected or a super-spreader.”

The plea to observe holidays differently this year extended to Halloween. Van Do-Reynoso, head of County Public Health, said, “No one should be participating in traditional trick-or-treating this year.” Among the tips she mentioned that are found at the public health website were to wear a face covering even when outdoors, stay six feet from other people, and make a plan ahead of time on how to distribute candy safely.

Although Do-Reynoso said she was concerned about all parts of the county, Isla Vista’s traditional Halloween ragers were an obvious issue. She said Public Health would bring a set of pop-up testing clinics to I.V. before and after Halloween, during the afternoon on October 23 and 24 and November 6 and 7. To register for an appointment, go here.

In a year that may come to be remembered simply as The Pandemic, Do-Reynoso announced a ray of positive news. Dr. Ansorg received the Physician of the Year award from the Central Coast Medical Society — well deserved, she said, “for his wonderful sense of humor that helps keep the team grounded and defuses intense moments during our response efforts.”

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