Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

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By Gustavo Ingles, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara County failed its citizens by being secretive and opaque during the COVID-19 crisis.

From the moment the coronavirus was on our shores, Santa Barbara County did their best to silence community concerns, keep information hard to find, and refused to be proactive to stop the spread of this deadly virus.

When Californians watched with anxiety as a cruise ship loaded with COVID-19 patients made its way to the San Francisco Bay Area, another cruise ship anchored in the Santa Barbara Harbor. When county officials were asked if other cruise liners would be allowed to anchor off our shores, Santa Barbara County said they “didn’t know,” as reported by Channel 3.

As Monterey County was proactive to kick the cruise ships out, Santa Barbara County sat on their thumbs not knowing what to do. It took a letter from the City of Santa Barbara’s mayor asking cruise ships to cancel their planned visits before anything was done. In fact, Santa Barbara Public Health said there was “no reason to be alarmed” about upcoming visits from cruise ships. Even as the cruise ship at the center of the outbreak - the Grand Princess - was slated to disembark on our shores in April. (Again as reported by channel 3). The County prioritized cruise ship profits over the community wellbeing.

When Point Mugu was used as a quarantine destination for recent travelers to Wuhan and Hubei provinces, Ventura County provided continuous updates about each person’s medical status. The virus was in our backyard and Ventura County kept a watchful eye on its spread. In San Luis Obispo County, Camp Roberts was floated as another location for COVID-19 patients. SLO County officials warned the public ahead of time and pushed back.

As rumors swirled that Vandenberg was under consideration as a quarantine site, Santa Barbara County officials again “didn’t know” if that was accurate. Again the county was bailed out by another agency's transparency as VAFB issued a press release dispelling those rumors. 

On Feb. 28, public health officer Dr. Henning Ansorg told Noozhawk that they were prepared for a possible outbreak but were hopeful there would be no cases in our area. He even described the chance of contracting the virus as “extremely low.” "It’s just like nonexistent basically,” Ansorg told Noozhawk.

Ventura County’s public health officer, Dr. Robert Levin told the VCStar that it was inevitable that locals would eventually contract the coronavirus - and he was right. He did, however, downplay the fatality rate of the disease like most other health officials in the country. 

I will credit Ansorg for hammering home the critical importance of washing your hards. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. And as the outbreak continued to inch closer and closer to Santa Barbara County, Ansorg was absent from many county public health briefings - instead opting to call in to the meetings from elsewhere. Where previous health officer Charity Dean was the face of County Public Health Department, Dr. Ansorg was the voice - nowhere to be seen. He has since remedied that in the county’s semi-regular news briefings (more on that later).

Ventura County issued a stay-at-home order for its residents 70 and older as Santa Barbara County suggested large events be canceled. It also ordered bars and venues to close and restaurants to shift to carry-out and delivery only. Days later, San Luis Obispo County did one better, a mandatory shelter at home order for ALL residents, the same orders issued by Gov. Newsom. 

Santa Barbara County, to its credit, saw their neighbors enacting restrictions and decided to announce their own shelter at home order. Residents 75 and older were encouraged to shelter at home. It was a similar, yet less restrictive order than the one issued by Ventura County, THREE DAYS earlier. And rather than announce this order in a publicly televised event for the thousands of residents who have come to depend on our local news stations and online publications, they announced the order in a teleconference. Half a million people were informed that their lives would be changing drastically… in a phone call. A phone call where most local media couldn’t attend and most of the populace couldn’t tune in.

Luckily, the county was bailed out once again by a much more competent administration. 

Gov. Newsom announced a statewide shelter at home order to ALL citizens, not just those who are most vulnerable. The state saw the risk of young people spreading the disease. He took the necessary steps to flatten the curve, and even with his interventions, thousands of Californians are still likely to lose their lives. Including some in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County was sure to let the public know they were “going to” announce a countywide stay at home order, but the Governor beat them to the punch. A round of applause for Santa Barbara County for almost doing the right thing in a timely manner.

Now, after Santa Barbara County’s cases begin to dwarf that of San Luis Obispo County and encroach on the number of its southern neighbor, Santa Barbara County officials are finally starting to get the memo.

The County is holding semi-regular news briefings featuring Supervisor Gregg Hart, Dr. Ansorg and County Public Health Director Van do-Reynoso (on occasion). But, even when they make the right decision, they deviate for the sake of being different. Ventura County and San Luis Obispo County are holding new press conferences every weekday and some weekends. Santa Barbara County has no clear defined schedule. A friend who works for one of the newspapers tells me that the County wouldn’t even disclose to the media where the press briefings would be held until minutes before the first briefing was held.

It’s already obvious to me that the county was unprepared. They didn’t take it seriously and they thought they could solve the issue without hurting the local economy. They were wrong. So now the question is this: why isn’t the County at the very least being transparent? Is County Public Health in over its head? Did Dr. Ansorg and Dr. do-Reynoso bungle their preparedness plan and are now covering their tracks? Is County public information director Gina DePinto trying to save face for her lack of transparency and her inability to understand how county residents ingest information? Or were the County supervisors more concerned about keeping their seats on the board, placing their focus on fighting for re-election rather than taking care of their constituents (speaking of which, where have Das Williams and Joan Hartmann been?).

And why is Cottage putting out their own numbers that differ from the official county tallies? Is Santa Barbara County trying to hide what is a much more grim outlook?

The fact of the matter is this: national health experts knew we were in trouble. State health experts knew we were in trouble. San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties knew we were in trouble. Santa Barbara County hoped that ignoring the problem would make it go away. Now we are all paying for their incompetence. 

Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.

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a-1586202288 Apr 06, 2020 12:44 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

I feel for you Gustavo. Many years ago I learned not to rely on government for anything. I suppose that's why the question of being transparent/not transparent, truthful/not truthful, and so on has no affect on me simply because I don't rely on the gov as so many folks do. Maybe I'm an anomaly being a happy fool, or maybe I'm not....either way, my approach is to take care of myself/family, and then keep my Jimmy Crack Corn attitude toward government.

2contango Apr 06, 2020 01:12 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Agree with you 100%. I'm appalled at how SB County Public Health has handled this, particularly compared with SLO County. Has public health been underfunded here? Is it poor management? I hope this year's Grand Jury looks into this.

a-1586204894 Apr 06, 2020 01:28 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Totally agree. Cities failed too. There is no enforcement for business like restaurants or barbershops that remain open for business. Additionally, there is a huge cultural and language barrier for some community members and some of these community members are still gathering on the weekend... This disease is going to be around for a long time because of miss opportunities and the failure to be transparent.

a-1586205529 Apr 06, 2020 01:38 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

1:28 - what community members are still gathering? Could they be from the same household and still distancing from other households? If the picnic areas are closed, then no one should be there.

a-1586211897 Apr 06, 2020 03:24 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

I live on the lower east side and I saw a huge back yard party in a Latino family neighbors house. Guests were parking blocks away to attend. Trust me, this community is NOT getting the message. The Chapala Market in Milpas and all the liquor stores around here have dozens of patrons coming and going and hanging close together in the parking lots.

Minibeast Apr 06, 2020 01:59 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Dr. Fitzgibbons with her Cottage Healthcare conference was when I realized we were all in big trouble. I can't find that video now or the date (anyone?)----some time in second week of March? Another Edhatter had posted the link in a comment. (**Thank you**, helpful, wise person.) After I watched the video I reposted that link, telling Edhatters they had to see it, in order to grasp the severity of the pandemic about to assault us all. As soon as I saw Dr. Fitzgibbons' talk (and perceived the urgency couched her facts and figures), I began my own stay-at-home seclusion. When Governor Newsom declared a state-wide shelter-in-place order, I was so happy. Some in my family "didn't get it" at first, but they all do now. I hope everyone else realizes that this virus isn't (as Trump stated) going to miraculously "disappear." If ever there was a time for vigilance, self-discipline and common sense-----it is now.

EastBeach Apr 06, 2020 02:34 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Dr. Fitzgibbons actually gave a second clinical update which I also highly recommend! Edhat links to it here .... https://www.edhat.com/news/infectious-disease-expert-takes-closer-look-at-covid-19-facts.

EastBeach Apr 07, 2020 09:23 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

MacPuzl is correct. For Dr. Fitzgibbon's second clinical update video, please leave out the period I inadvertently placed at the end of the link. Here's the link again .... https://www.edhat.com/news/infectious-disease-expert-takes-closer-look-at-covid-19-facts

CoastWatch Apr 06, 2020 02:10 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

There will be NO PERSONAL ACCOUNTIBILITY from the anyone in the SB County Health Dept. - it just doesn't happen, in fact , those that didn't respond and follow though will probably get PROMOTED!

TheMole Apr 06, 2020 03:49 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

In my opinion, I don't think Public Health dropped the ball. Primary physicians were sending patients to Public Health clinics and they didn't know (from what I've gathered) that Public Health didn't even have testing in March. I'm not sure what the procedure is but I blame the Board of Supervisors. I like how they stay home but are asking the County "peons" to work. It shows how much our politicians care. Bottom line... they don't. I'd like to say "thank you" to CEO Mona Miyasato for absolutely nothing. This is a mess.

Abc109 Apr 06, 2020 08:34 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

@TheMole, when I presented with symptoms (and as an asthma sufferer) my doctor's office told me to contact Public Health. I tried 6 times over two days, only to get voicemail and no call back. I had to call my doctor's office three additional times in order to finally be seen. At no time was any test offered or given. I even called Cottage about my symptoms and asked if it was possible to test - no, tests could only be ordered by a doctor or Public Health. Testing would not have changed really anything for me, as I isolated, but it did illustrate the ABSOLUTE DISCONNECT that exists.

a-1586237742 Apr 06, 2020 10:35 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

@ THEMOLE, None of the supervisors have stayed home. They have been conducting their meetings and business as usual in their two hearing rooms. Public comment has been limited to phone and letters only which is managed by the clerk of the board, who has done a great job of implementing this new system. Gregg Hart has been leading daily press conferences. Who are the “peons” you mention? All public counters are closed and those who can work from home are. It is easy to cast blame as we all sit at home. It would have been good for the PHD to be more transparent from the beginning. It would also be helpful for people to stop trying to get tested who aren’t ill or seriously ill. We know there is a shortage of tests. You are not special unless you are very ill, that’s the situation we are in, it’s horrible but that’s the way it is. So stay home, don’t bother doctors unless it’s an emergency, and have a little compassion for all those trying to navigate through this disaster.

a-1586216221 Apr 06, 2020 04:37 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

I agree 100%. We were late and conservative with our orders, and lax on enforcement. We didn't even bother telling the Spanish-speaking neighbors and businesses. Ventura was way stronger on their game than we were. SLO was earlier on their warnings than either of us. The city was busy worrying about how canceling that cruise ship would hurt tourism, and failed to even grasp the real tsunami headed their way. Clearly no one in city government reads world news. The county is at best 2-3 weeks behind. They are reporting infections that occurred 7-20 days ago. They're not reporting demographic data, and lumped in Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland now as some kind of "South County" zone. No one has answered why North County is infected at double the rate of South County, unless the real reason is more testing up north.
We deserve better.

a-1586216230 Apr 06, 2020 04:37 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Watching the County “briefing” right now but so far its been five minutes of Gregg Hart babbling and offering advice And how to obtain virtual coloring books. Why cant it just be the Public Health Doctors offering facts, as in SLO and Ventua

goletaspring Apr 07, 2020 07:04 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Agreed 100%. Hart is not a medical expert, why is he putting himself out there as the spokesperson for the county instead of letting the experts take the lead.

RHS Apr 07, 2020 10:28 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Why criticize Hart for his "babbling" when it takes only five minutes or so while our President blathers on for 90 minutes or more every day with no scientific training. Yet he continues to recommend odd stuff like taking unproven medical regimens which he himself will not do! (To say nothing of undercutting the public health care specialists who recommended people cover their faces outdoors.) So much of these comments seem totally determined by the political agenda of the posting party and should always be taken in that fashion.

a-1586220081 Apr 06, 2020 05:41 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

I totally agree. PHD people here are a incompetent and treating the public like idiots. They should be replaced. Their secrecy from the beginning bothered me a lot. That's an epic stupidity. It's called a pandemic. Location info is essential to control and public anxiety. As basic as this, they failed to give out that data for many days. It was under public outcry they did eventually. I have no confidence with PHD and the current leadership. Time for you to wash hands and leave!

Thomas John Apr 06, 2020 06:27 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

With a complete lack of any Federal leadership, I think it might be a little overboard leveling this much angst at was is a small backwater country program.


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