By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
An ongoing shortage of COVID-19 tests means that Santa Barbara County cannot move to reopen its economy yet, despite widespread compliance with California’s stay-at-home order that has stemmed the spread of the disease, Supervisor Gregg Hart told Newsmakers on Friday.
“We cannot move to the next stage blind,” Hart, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said in a one-on-one interview. “Indications are encouraging but we have tested so few people, we really don’t know what is going on.”
Crisp, direct and informative, Hart provided a detailed and up-to-the-minute status report on where the county stands in its fight against the coronavirus, both medically and financially, that carried a good news-bad news message.
Most encouraging, he said, is that residents have accomplished the crucial first goal of the battle against the pandemic by “bending the curve” — measurably slowing and reducing the dissemination of the virus to eliminate the danger of local hospitals and medical facilities being overwhelmed by sick people with COVID-19.
“This community knows how to do the right thing,” Gregg said. “I’m really impressed by how our community has responded to this crisis.”
That said, however, the virus remains a clear and present public health danger; there is no human immunity to it, and it is easily transmitted, even by people who show no symptoms. In order to ensure public safety and prevent a sudden new wave of disease, businesses cannot be reopened nor commerce restarted until there is a robust system in place to allow both random testing among the general population and targeted testing among at-risk populations:
“We need to know what’s happening and we need to know in real time and we need to be able to assure people that as we open more businesses and have people mixing together, we don’t cause a huge outbreak in the virus,” Hart told us. “The reason we have bent the curve is the…stay at home order that people have been practicing – that’s why we accomplished what we did.
“When we stop doing that and we don’t have the ability to test, we’ll be right back where we were before,” he added.
Asked what the timetable is for the county to obtain necessary testing materials and resources, Hart said, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
“I haven’t seen any credible information about the timing of the availability of the testing that we need to do the next step of the process,” he said. “This is a national problem, this is an international problem – there aren’t enough tests to go around the planet.”
In the interview. Hart, who is leading the county response to the pandemic, also:
Explained the complex problems of trying to obtain tests through a “supply chain system that is not rationalized and not integrated.”
Assessed the financial challenge the county now faces, having taken a net hit from the pandemic of about $37 million in unforeseen higher costs and slumping revenues.
Discussed the difficulties of coping with a large Covid outbreak among the staff and inmates at the Federal Correctional Institute in Lompoc, some of whom may end up in county medicl facilities.
“Until there is a vaccine, it’s not like this is going to end,” Hart said, “The need to do testing and tracking and isolation and quarantine doesn’t stop in a couple of weeks or a month. It stops when there is herd immunity in the whole population, or a vaccine.”
See the whole interview by clicking above. The podcast version is here.