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Santa Barbara County confirms seven new cases of COVID-19
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Santa Barbara County confirms seven new cases of COVID-19

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department will issue a shelter-at-home order effective at 5 p.m. Friday for all residents 75 and older and for residents 70 and older who have underlying health issues.

The order is being issued after Public Health confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 over the past two days, bringing the county's total to nine and spurring the city of Santa Maria to declare a local state of emergency. 

The order was not officially issued but announced in a teleconference Thursday evening, when Dr. Henning Ansorg, county health officer, explained why the county decided not to issue the order for all residents.

"We want to achieve the most beneficial effects with the least intrusions into people's liberties," Ansorg said, referring to those affected as the most vulnerable. "Having said that, this could change very rapidly if we see an uptick in the number of cases."

The third case in the county, a North County resident in their 60s and a family member of the first confirmed county case, was confirmed Wednesday evening by Public Health Department spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz.

"It is unknown if this person has underlying medical conditions, but they are recovering at home," Ruiz said. 

Six other cases were then confirmed Thursday in both northern and southern Santa Barbara County — three South County individuals, including two in their 50s and one in their 20s, and two North County individuals in their 30s. 

The sixth case, announced late Thursday, is a North County resident in their 30s, Ruiz said. 

The Public Health Department is conducting a thorough investigation into how the seven most recent cases were contracted, and staff are contacting those who may have had close contact with these individuals.

As of Wednesday, 214 tests had been administered in the county, a 71% increase since Tuesday. Along with the nine positive results, 66 are negative and 139 are pending, according to updates from the Public Health Department. 

Five individuals in Isla Vista who were being monitored for coronavirus symptoms after exposure to a confirmed case are included in these negative results.

San Luis Obispo County has 13 confirmed coronavirus cases, six of which were confirmed Thursday.

San Luis Obispo County also announced a shelter-at-home order Wednesday that went into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday, requiring residents to limit outings to essential activities only and requiring all employees except essential personnel to stay home.

"The [Santa Barbara County] Public Health Department is constantly evaluating the need for heightened measures," Ruiz said. 

In the meantime, the city of Santa Maria declared a local state of emergency Wednesday in response to the coronavirus, allowing the city manager to access state and federal resources related to fighting the outbreak along with streamlined processes for baseline essential resources.

The state of emergency is set for seven days, but City Manager Jason Stilwell could elect to extend the order through discussion with the City Council, city spokesman Mark van de Kamp said. 

On Tuesday, the state governor's office signed emergency legislation granting the state $1.1 billion in funds to fight the coronavirus throughout California, which the city can apply for with its emergency declaration.

The city can apply to receive allocations for increased hospital bed capacity and medical equipment, resources for vulnerable patients in hospitals and nursing homes and those isolating at home, resources for those experiencing homelessness and for child care centers. 

"A local proclamation allows us more flexibility in our response. As they become available, we'll be looking to apply for those funds," van de Kamp said. 

The emergency declaration does not direct any specific actions toward city residents but calls on all city of Santa Maria employees to be ready to act in their roles as disaster service workers. 

If needed, employees could be called to help with distributing such resources as water to residents or assisting the population in finding safe housing, van de Kamp said.

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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