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First COVID-19 death reported in Santa Barbara County; North County resident in 60s succumbed at hospital

First COVID-19 death reported in Santa Barbara County; North County resident in 60s succumbed at hospital

The first COVID-19-related death in the county was reported Wednesday by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

The individual, who died Wednesday, is a North County resident in their 60s with underlying health conditions who was in intensive care at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria. 

"I am saddened to report we now have our first COVID-19 death in Santa Barbara County. Our hearts go out to the family and friends who are grieving the loss of their loved one today," 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said at a Wednesday press conference.

The individual in intensive care was also receiving help from a ventilator, public health officials said. The person's name was not given.

As of noon Wednesday, the department also confirmed 12 new cases of the virus for a total of 111 cases in the county.

Of these 12 new cases, one is in Santa Barbara, one is in Goleta, one is in the Santa Ynez Valley, two are in the Lompoc area including Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village, three are in Santa Maria, two are in Orcutt, and two are in North County areas including Guadalupe.

Of the 111 total cases, 23 are recovered, 65 patients are recovering at home, six are pending treatment, and 17 are recovering in county hospitals, 13 of which are in intensive care units.  

In San Luis Obispo County, three new cases were confirmed for a total of 83. No deaths in the county have been reported at this time. 

Increased testing turnaround

Turnaround on county testing results from commercial labs has also greatly increased over the past few days, giving the Public Health Department a clearer picture of the number of cases in the county at a given time, county Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said.

"I have been informed that all of our commercial lab testing sites, Quest, LabCorp and Sonic, have greatly accelerated their turnaround time for testing to about 48 hours, which is incredibly helpful in making our disease interventions more timely and effective," Ansorg said.

In addition, the Public Health Department has been pursuing 200 rapid-result testing kits to permit testing at their own in-county public health lab. Currently, the majority of tests is processed at commercial labs outside of the county, including at the public health labs of Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

According to county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso, the county will still rely on assistance from the public health labs and other commercial labs to continue running tests. 

"While we will have the capacity to produce rapid tests, we will continue to rely on our partners and the state," Do-Reynoso said.

The test order is expected to arrive "any day now," according to Do-Reynoso, with hopes for testing at the public health lab to begin in a week. 

Expanding hospital capacity

While hospitals are not filled to capacity, and all hospitals have the ability to expand their capacity, Ansorg said the Public Health Department is investigating potential sites for additional patients if further surges occur. 

The department will be accepting additional patients this week at the former Lompoc hospital site, he said. 

Alternative care sites are also being investigated in North County cities as well as Santa Barbara. The sites would serve as step-down facilities for those recovering but no longer needing intensive care, Ansorg said. 

Recognizing abuse when no one is watching

Alana Walczak, chief executive director of Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), spoke at the press conference about the increased rates of domestic disturbances reported by the county Sheriff's Department since the state's shelter-at-home went into effect.

Walczak said there is a likely increase in trauma and child abuse taking place as well, with less surveillance from adults such as teachers and coaches who are around children more regularly and able to report it. 

"Be aware that there may be children around you that need help. During these difficult times, there is so much being asked of parents ... while also dealing with the greatest stressors of our time," Walczak said. 

Those who suspect child abuse in the community are encouraged to contact Child Welfare Services, or to reach out to CALM at 805-965-2376 or online at calm4kids.org

County-wide grief 

Following the first confirmed death from COVID-19 in the county, officials are encouraging the public to take social distancing and shelter-at-home more seriously than ever.

"We all care about each other deeply and take pride in helping others. This is the most important moment in our lives. If we all take personal responsibility for our own actions, we can protect our community's well being and health," Hart said. 

Walczak noted that the loss of community members causes grief not only for those close to those lost, but the community as a whole. She noted the importance of taking a break from news about the pandemic for those experiencing trauma. 

"This is going to be a big tipping point for our county. It’s going to cause a lot of grief and panic," Walczak said. "I think we’re going to see a wave of this trauma as we move more deeply into grief."

Infographic: San Luis Obispo County Coronavirus Update - April 1, 2020

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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