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. 


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uponthehill Apr 07, 2020 08:50 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

My question is this-----
Keyt keeps showing the plans Ventura and San Luis are making for the peak when hospitals are overrun.
I have heard nothing about what Santa Barbara's plans are.
The other counties are finding shelters for the homeless, but I have heard nothing about what is being done here.
If the county isn't doing anything, then why is the City not stepping up?

Kruppe Apr 07, 2020 11:24 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

SLO has competent medical doctors, i.e. practicing physicians who are also pulling a double shift advising and planning for the worst. How else do you think some Calpoly facilities have been (are being) converted to overflow COVID hospital wards? Pray tell me, what have SB PHD done?? During the Thomas fire, the UCSB recreation center was a designated emergency shelter. Where are the plans to use UCSB facilities for emergency COVID care?

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

There is and will be a serious amount of hate and furor towards our elected officials in the coming months and years. Many of these feelings are well founded. Some are not. One thing to remember is that we have people in charge of bureaucracies that have never managed anything other than a bureaucracy. Bureaucrats by their very nature are not good at managing change or adapting to a changing market or world. To think that these academic focused bureaucrats would be able to or willing to take charge in a crisis is misguided. These people are not leaders, they are not heros, they are bureaucrats. They follow, they do not lead. Bureaucrats do not take responsibility, they are not held accountable and they are not capable of rising to the need under such conditions. ---||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| -- In other words: You are expecting something from these people that they are incapable of providing. As long as you remember that, you'll be less disappointed in the inaction and incompetence of our civic employees. Remember that great people ( what Steve Jobs called A players) do not work in bureaucracies because great people only want to work with other great people.

a-1586276749 Apr 07, 2020 09:25 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Do not agree with you whatsoever. Truly great leadership is possible in government and the "bureaucracies" you put down. When a giant firestorm threatened the Central Coast, it took guts and great leadership to marshal and army of firefighters. The flood in Montecito was predicted for years by a heroic Flood Control Director but ignored by a handful of politicians. If you want to blame someone, blame us, the public for voting for politicians who are bought and paid for by special interests and worse. The folks that keep the lights running, the schools operating, the sewers running when you flush, the water coming to your sink, the streets safe, and fires mitigated attacked are our true heroes, run by bureaucrats all.

SantaBarbaraObserver Apr 07, 2020 10:16 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

You are citing the actions of highly trained professionals, not bureaucrats. Fire fighters are not bureaucrats. Police officers are not bureaucrats. EMT's and ambulance drivers are not bureaucrats. Engineers and scientists are not bureaucrats. They are highly skilled people who are educated and well trained for their specific duties. We have these people in place, (many sitting idol 95% of their time) for this very reason. ----- |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ----- Remember, the people who died in the debris flow died due the gross negligence of the political leaders and their inept, incompetent lackeys. If they had trained professionals at the helm, strong capable leaders and not elected politicians or appointed political hacks, something as stupid as using a bisecting road to delineate the inevitable gravitational flow of water, would have NEVER happened. Dont conflate the actions of professionals who train for these disasters with that of the idiot nincompoops who sit on their butts all day pushing paper and acting important. Bureaucrats by their very nature exist to protect their fiefdom. They are, as is the case in every insular community - a race to the lowest common denominator. Smart, competent and capable people DO NOT WANT to work with incompetent morons and our government is full of the later.

a-1586320343 Apr 07, 2020 09:32 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Every department in every government is run by managers, perhaps you say "bureaucrats" who plan, budget, direct and hire the firefighters, police, and every other worker in every government. The Fire Chief, Police Chief, Sanitation Dept. Director, all are managers who lead and direct. Without them there is no services. And there is mostly very good leadership here in our government. The mud flow was predicted by aFlood Control Director but he could not get the Board of Supervisors at the time to put in a large drainage basin, mostly because the local citizens complained about have the basin put in. In Carpinteria the people supported the improvements and the basins were put in. It is not all so simple, black and white. If you showed up in public meetings and participated you would find out that most public officials and their staff are hard working and very competent. There are duds in every profession, like the oil company folks that happened to leave their messes all over the county for the taxpayers to clean up.

Hokey-Pokey Apr 07, 2020 09:59 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Why aren't we testing more, why don't we have more tests, and why are providers allowed to send tests out to other labs and not required to report the results to the public health department #during a pandemic??

SBCPH can't get the job done

Soon they have said they will stop reporting numbers of pending cases. Why? So we can't see how few are tested? So we can't see the backlog?

This dept needs a serious overhaul.

GuestComments Apr 07, 2020 11:28 AM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

It's frustrating to see people asking why accurate testing is needed, or glibly saying "just assume everyone has it." Scientists need accuracy and widespread testing to track what the virus is doing, how it's being transmitted, how long it's lasting in people, how long incubation is, and how long people are contagious before, during, and after symptoms. They would know whether someone who has had it can get it again (as was reported as a possibility a few weeks back in China and Italy). Dr. Ansorg says it isn't airborne, but medical professionals worldwide are in disagreement about whether it is or isn't. Widespread testing could help scientists and epidemiologists figure that out definitively. There are so many questions and unknowns about COVID-19 that could be solved with widespread testing.

Another reason for widespread testing: we'd know which among us, even those who are asymptomatic, have already had it and had gotten over it. If it acts like other viruses, that would make those people immune for at least a few months. A large portion of the population may have already been exposed, developed antibodies, and aren't susceptible to either getting it or transmitting it now. They could potentially all go back to work, re-open their businesses, volunteer safely without fear of getting other sick, etc.

Since widespread testing wasn't already done, I hope that not only will more tests be available for those who have the active virus, but also that widespread community testing will be available to test for the antibodies so people can find out if they've already had it. If someone has already had it and has the antibodies to protect themselves and prevent them from transmitting it to others, they could be key in restarting the economy as "cleared" for work and for returning to life as normal. The number of those who have had it already is vastly greater than the numbers we're seeing in the daily reports. If everyone could get the test to see if they have antibodies in their system, we'd have a better sense of how much of community is "safe" to return to life outside of the shelter in place order, and on the flip side, who among us may need to stay protected because they don't yet have antibodies, and for some who've been really sick this year, that would mean finding out that what they thought was COVID wasn't.

2contango Apr 07, 2020 12:33 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

A headline from today's LA Times: "All L.A. County residents can now get coronavirus tests". They've expanded testing to all residents who have symptoms and apply to be tested. "Thanks to expanded testing capacity through city and county partnerships, there are no longer limits to who can be tested at the sites across the county." At yesterday's briefing in SLO county, Dr. Penny Borenstein noted that all symptomatic individuals "should be able to present to their healthcare provider or an urgent care setting and actually get tested. If they are unable, we still at public health very much want to hear from people if they are running into challenges getting tested, if they have symptoms." She then repeated their phone number twice. Does anyone know the status of testing in SB County?

Eggs Ackley Apr 07, 2020 02:50 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

NOOOO!. That’s incorrect! Here’s a direct quote: Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday evening that any Los Angeles County resident who has symptoms and wants to be tested for the coronavirus can now apply online.
Let’s not play telephone. This is too serious

Tedi Apr 07, 2020 01:28 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Thank you to everyone doing the right thing. I still want to know why the medical workers had so few masks. Did they pass them out to friends and family during the fires or what? If not, why weren't there any in stock? Aren't they supposed to be prepared? We need to know when/if this crisis is over.

Ahchooo Apr 07, 2020 02:20 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

My understanding is that with a highly infectious disease the health care workers must use vastly more masks, etc. than usual. They aren’t wasting them or selling them, they are using and disposing of them, putting on clean ones, and doing that over and over way more often than usual. Not just twice as much, but ten to a hundred times more, because this virus is new and there are no treatments. They have to be scrupulous in their sanitation. The PPE is meant to be disposable, not reusable, so it gets used up.

PitMix Apr 08, 2020 04:12 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

As Marathoner stated above, millions of masks were sold to China in recent months because no one here had the foresight to reserve them in case they were needed here. Good profit for the industry though.

Get over it Apr 08, 2020 06:44 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

@pit Maybe because China lied to us about the extent of the virus and we are a nation who are obliged to help others in need. If we had known, it may have worked out differently.

GrammaSB Apr 07, 2020 05:24 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

Sad to say Santa Barbara City and County Leadership is failing us miserably. Low numbers at the present time don't indicate there won't be a sudden surge Cottage Health System can only do so much and staff do get tired and are susceptible to getting ill as well. The stay at home order or request however you want to interpret it and social distancing is not taken seriously that is a set up for a surge and hopefully it won't e anyone any of us knows or are related to. If non essential workers stay home and non essential activities are refrained from temporarily it takes that much more strain off of our health care system in the avoidance of car accidents etc also of course first and foremost unnecessary exposure to a potential Corona Virus Positive person that shows no symptoms which if you are exposed then you can spread to someone in your household. etc etc etc @ this point listening to the Mayor of LA Eric Garcetti is a great resource if you value your life and your loved ones.

Marathoner Apr 07, 2020 10:21 PM
Op-Ed: Santa Barbara County Failed Its Citizens

The fish rots from the head. Fails at Federal level include: US dumping PPE in huge sale to China, US ignoring prospect of pandemic, POTUS assertion it was only 15 and would be zero patients, POTUS delay intending to let cruise ship passengers twist in the wind due to "the numbers", US failure to have testing kits - still not fixed - US failure to have substantial stockpile of cheap PPE despite huge buildup in billion-dollar war gadgets, US failure to appoint a qualified centralized command, delayed and insufficient use of DPA, cronyism/political favoritism implied intent to withold Federal stockpile from Michigan and Washington,unqualified reality show star and real estate director peddling sketchy snake oil over objection of NIAID director, failure to use Federal muscle when idiot Lousianna megahurch pastor continues to flaut shut down and Texas permits churches to engage in weekly coronavirus parties...this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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