Tuesday, June 23, 2020

SLO County Public Health Department warns of fake face covering exemption cards

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 7:22 PM

The SLO County Public Health Department is warning residents that various cards claiming to exempt the holder from California’s face covering ordinance are fraudulent and not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a “rumor alert” posted to the department’s Facebook page on June 22, county staff linked to a recent press release posted by the U.S. Department of Justice, which says that various printouts of face covering exemption cards, many of which include the U.S. Department of Justice seal, are floating around the internet.

EXEMPT? Fraudulent cards claiming to exempt the holder from California’s face covering ordinance are floating around SLO County Facebook groups. - SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK
  • SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK
  • EXEMPT? Fraudulent cards claiming to exempt the holder from California’s face covering ordinance are floating around SLO County Facebook groups.
“These postings were not issued by the department and are not endorsed by the department,” the press release reads. “The department urges the public not to rely on the information contained in these postings and to visit ada.gov for ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] information issued by the Department.”

Printouts like these have circulated through SLO County Facebook groups in recent weeks. Bob Gannage recently posted such a face mask exempt card to the Facebook group “Reopen San Luis Obispo County,” which includes the U.S. Department of Justice seal and the department’s ADA violation reporting number.

The card claims that wearing a face mask “posses” a mental or physical risk to the holder.

“Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) [sic], I am not required to disclose my condition to you,” the card reads. “If found in violation of the ADA you could face steep penalties. Organizations and businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for your first violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violations.”

The card also claims that any business or organization that denies access to a card holder because of a face covering rule will be reported to the "Freedom to Breathe Agency", a group that appears to have recently formed in opposition to COVID-19-related face covering requirements.

A number of other similar printouts and links to cards on the Freedom to Breathe Agency's website have also been shared in local Facebook groups.

Although the state issued an executive order requiring Californians to wear face coverings in public while physical distancing is not practical, SLO County spokesperson Michelle Shoresman said the focus is more on promoting compliance and less on enforcement. Businesses are allowed to deny access to individuals who refuse to wear a mask, but Shoresman said that unless a situation becomes disruptive, that will likely be the extent of the consequences.

Still, a number of individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings—young children, those with certain physical and mental health issues, some disabilities—and Shoresman said there is no official verification process or documentation for those individuals.

“We encourage residents and business owners to recognize and respect that some people are not able to wear a face covering for legitimate medical and mental health reasons, including reasons that are not readily visible,” Shoresman wrote in a statement to New Times. “Individuals do not need to provide proof of those conditions.” ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Santa Barbara County announces dates for retail cannabis meetings

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2020 at 7:04 PM

Residents looking to have a say in Santa Barbara County’s cannabis retail selection process will have a chance during multiple meetings scheduled for July.

BEGINNING THE PROCESS Santa Barbara County announced the virtual meeting dates for going over its cannabis retail process. Helios Dayspring, who owns the Natural Healing Center in Grover Beach, purchased the building where Old Town Market is located with the hopes of obtaining the permit in Orcutt. - FILE PHOTO BY ZAC EZZONE
  • FILE PHOTO BY ZAC EZZONE
  • BEGINNING THE PROCESS Santa Barbara County announced the virtual meeting dates for going over its cannabis retail process. Helios Dayspring, who owns the Natural Healing Center in Grover Beach, purchased the building where Old Town Market is located with the hopes of obtaining the permit in Orcutt.
Under the county’s existing regulations, six cannabis retail stores can open in unincorporated parts of the county with one in each of Isla Vista, Santa Ynez, Summerland, Orcutt, Eastern Goleta Valley, and Los Alamos.

Earlier this year, the county Board of Supervisors updated its cannabis retail selection process and created a merit-based scoring system that’ll be used to choose which operators receive the permits to each of these locations. This limited number of locations makes each one extremely valuable for whoever receives the permit, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said in a previous interview.

Part of this merit-based scoring system includes a community meeting in each community plan area, where residents can weigh in on what they’d like to see from a cannabis store in their neighborhood. Originally slated for April, the meetings were postponed and moved to a virtual format due to COVID-19.

On June 22, the county announced new dates, with the one in Orcutt set for July 9 at 5:30 p.m. Information about how to join the meetings is available on the county’s dedicated cannabis webpage.

The county also released a video explaining the retail selection process, as well as six other videos that show where cannabis stores could open in each community plan area. According to the video on Orcutt, this includes the area near Clark Avenue and Highway 101, parts of Old Town Orcutt, near the intersection of Union Valley Pacific Road and Broadway, and near the intersection of Black Road and Tanglewood Drive.

Helios Dayspring purchased the building where Old Town Market is located with the intention of applying for the cannabis retail permit in Orcutt. Dayspring runs a retail store called the Natural Healing Center in Grover Beach, and has secured retail permits to open stores in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, as well as two in the Central Valley. He also operates cannabis cultivation sites in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Nick Andre, the Natural Healing Center’s chief operating officer, said the company identified the Orcutt property where the market is located as the best fit for its plans, as it’s one of the few locations in Old Town that meets the county’s zoning requirements for cannabis retail permits. Also, the building has one of the largest parking lots in Old Town Orcutt, which is needed to accommodate the 800 to 1,000 people who will visit the store daily, Andre said.

“We think it’s amazing for a downtown to have an influx of 800 people a day that weren’t there before,” Andre said. “That’s what a downtown is built for is to … be a center of commerce.” ∆

—Zac Ezzone

Monday, June 22, 2020

Santa Barbara County sees sharp increase in cases, hospitalizations

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 9:24 PM

According to a June 19 update from Lompoc Valley Medical Center (LVMC) CEO Steve Popkin, the county witnessed a significant spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations from June 13 to 18.

“During this week, there were five new positive cases from the Lompoc Valley; 43 cases from Santa Barbara; and 183 cases from Santa Maria,” Popkin wrote of the six-day period.

EW OUTBREAKS During a week of spiked COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations throughout Santa Barbara County, Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria experienced a 35-person outbreak with eight related deaths so far. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY OAKS CARE CENTER
  • FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY OAKS CARE CENTER
  • EW OUTBREAKS During a week of spiked COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations throughout Santa Barbara County, Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria experienced a 35-person outbreak with eight related deaths so far.
Popkin wrote that the disparity between regions remains roughly the same even when adjusting for population size in the different areas. Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said that this disparity is likely due to a variety of factors.

Since Santa Maria’s cases were highest to begin with, “it sort of spreads in concentric circles,” Ansorg said. “It’s because most people probably catch it either at work or at home.”

He also attributed the numbers to high density living situations in Santa Maria.

Hospitalizations are also on the rise, Popkin said.

“COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in the county increased from 51 to 61. … The number of hospitalized patients in ICU increased from 12 to 17,” Popkin wrote on June 19, noting that currently none of those hospitalized are at LVMC.

As of June 21, 63 COVID patients were hospitalized and the number in the ICU remained the same.

A June 19 statement from Cottage Hospital explained the significance of the increased hospitalizations.

“When we look at the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 illness, we’re seeing a steeper rise now compared to the March and April numbers at Cottage,” it states. “The number of people who require hospital care is an important indicator of community spread because it is not impacted by increased testing capacity.”

Cottage’s Director of Quality and Research, Medical Education, Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons said the numbers should get everyone’s attention.

“The epidemic locally is not over. Every case we see here impacts our community as a whole,” she said in Cottage’s statement.

According to Popkin’s update, “The age distribution of COVID-19 cases within Santa Barbara County skews younger than most areas.” Nine percent of cases are individuals 17 years old and under, 26 percent are aged 18 to 29, 36 percent are aged 30 to 49, about 21 percent are aged 50 to 69, and eight percent are 70 and above.

“People who are in their 80s or 90s don’t go out so much,” Ansorg explained of the age gap. “Because people catch it a lot at work, it’s [highest among] the population who work.”

Popkin said the ages of hospitalized cases aren't reported, “but from informal information sources, it appears that the age distribution for hospitalized patients in the county is similarly skewing much younger than most areas.”

Over the past week, the county has reported nine additional COVID-19 related deaths. Eight of those deaths are in connection with an outbreak at the Country Oaks Care Center. Ansorg said that of the 41 residents living at the facility at the start of the outbreak, only six tested negative.

“The licensing authorities from the state have sent teams of nurses there to train the remaining staff,” Ansorg said of the facility. “The state really pitched in: They sent teams to help out, take on shifts, and re-educate their staff.

As of June 21, there were 2,421 total confirmed cases in Santa Barbara County: 989 at the federal prison in Lompoc and 1,432 community cases. Nearly 2,000 individuals have fully recovered. ∆

—Malea Martin

Travel Paso wants locals to head to Paso Robles for a visit

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 4:43 PM

As San Luis Obispo County’s hospitality industry reopens, Travel Paso wants locals to know that businesses in the Paso Robles area are ready to serve them.

On June 18, Travel Paso issued a press release reminding the community that it’s a place where people dream of vacationing, and the city’s attractions, including restaurants and wineries, are once again open for service.

SAVOR PASO Travel Paso is encouraging SLO County locals to visit and take in what the city of Paso Robles has to offer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TRAVEL PASO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF TRAVEL PASO
  • SAVOR PASO Travel Paso is encouraging SLO County locals to visit and take in what the city of Paso Robles has to offer.
“For now, Paso is for SLOcals and returning visitors. That means—no matter what side of The Grade you live—there has never been a better time to explore and rediscover your bountiful backyard of wine, cowboys, and ancient oaks,” the press release stated.

Initially, the organization wants to focus its marketing efforts locally, Travel Paso Executive Director Stacie Jacob said.

“First and foremost, Paso wants to do its part in battling COVID-19. We are still in the throes of a pandemic,” Jacob said. “It’s important that our tourism ecosystem operate under the new conditions.”

The message, she said, is also a way to spark a positive and safe revival of the local economy in Paso Robles.

“One in five jobs in Paso Robles is tourism-related. Normally, nearly 2 million tourists visit Paso Robles each year, generating more than $15 million in direct tax revenues for our local community services,” Jacob said. “While visiting, tourists spend more than $355 million each year, supporting local businesses owned and staffed by our neighbors.”

As part of the safe reopening efforts, Paso’s Downtown City Park officially opened for dine-in services outdoors. Through Labor Day guests can reserve one of the many private farmhouse style tables in the park’s shaded dining section to order food from a participating restaurant.

There, Jacob said, guests will be met by a concierge who will guide them to their own sanitized table. The private seating is available for reservation Thursday through Sunday beginning at 5:30 p.m. Reservations can be made through Yelp by searching for “Downtown City Park.”

On the first weekend of the reservation program, Jacob said it accommodated nearly 500 diners.

“The success of the dining section goes back to our already solid foundation of collaboration in our community,” she said. “So many people came together to make it happen—Travel Paso, the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Main Street Association, the city of Paso Robles, and our amazing vendor team: Criú Hospitality, All About Events, Red Oak Security, and the Fence Factory.”

In an effort to provide more outdoor seating options, the city has placed additional public picnic tables in the park area and some businesses will soon have parklets.

Jacob said it’s been amazing to see how hard businesses have been working to open safely.

“It’s no small feat to comply with the state and county rules—and in effect completely change how you conduct your daily business,” she said. “Several have adjusted their hours to pivot with the new standards.”

The city of San Luis Obispo is exploring a similar outdoor dining program in the Mission area, Jacob said.

“It’s collaborative, creative problem solving like this that will be key to our county’s recovery and we are off to a great restart,” she said. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Friday, June 19, 2020

SLO County COVID-19 cases rise amid reopening

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 5:43 PM

As SLO County makes its way through a phased reopening process, it’s seeing a significant jump in cases of COVID-19. But Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein says she doesn’t plan to reverse course any time soon.

“As I have continuously said, we need to support the reopening of our community,” Borenstein said at a county press briefing on June 17. “We need to do it safely. We need to do it smartly. But we need to support the economic engine and the financial well being of our community.”

MOVING FORWARD Despite recent increases in SLO County’s cases of COVID-19, Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein says hospitalizations remain low. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • MOVING FORWARD Despite recent increases in SLO County’s cases of COVID-19, Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein says hospitalizations remain low.
New cases of COVID-19 have been steadily stacking up in SLO County since late May, when the county increased its testing capacity and received state approval to reopen faster than some other counties.

But the recent case increases are larger than the single digits SLO County has seen throughout the pandemic. On Monday, June 16, the county Public Health Department announced that roughly 23 new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed over the weekend, bringing the county’s total case count to 347. Then at a press briefing on June 17, Borenstein said another 20 cases had been confirmed, the largest single-day spike since the pandemic started.

As of June 19, SLO County had 404 confirmed cases of coronavirus and seven individuals in the hospital, four of which were in intensive care. Still, Borenstein said at the June 17 press briefing that while the recent uptick in cases is troubling, it’s the severity of those cases that will play a role in whether the county pulls back on its easing of public safety restrictions.

Despite the uptick in cases, a vast majority of SLO County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 have fully recovered, few are in the hospital, and even fewer in intensive care, Borenstein said.

“We continue to watch our metrics,” she said. “We will pull back if and when we need to. We will never do that lightly or at the drop of a hat. We will look for trends and those trends absolutely have to be related to the severity of the disease in our community.” ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Litigators write letter responding to recent Santa Barbara County Jail staff COVID-19 cases

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 4:48 PM

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced on June 18 that nine jail custody staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and that the office is awaiting test results for nine additional staff members who experienced symptoms, according to a press release.

WHO TO TEST: The Santa Barbara County Jail announced that it would test all jail staff for COVID-19 after finding an outbreak among jail custody staff members. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • WHO TO TEST: The Santa Barbara County Jail announced that it would test all jail staff for COVID-19 after finding an outbreak among jail custody staff members.
The nine infected staff members include four civilian staff who don’t have contact with inmates and five custody deputies. One of those custody deputies does have contact with inmates, but the press release states that the person didn’t work after showing symptoms. The staff members showing symptoms are awaiting their test results from home.

According to the release, the jail is going to have all remaining staff tested for COVID-19 in response to the new outbreak. But Aaron Fischer, a member of a team of litigators who filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Santa Barbara County Jail inmates in December 2017, believes it’s not enough.

“What’s missing in that news release is they are not expanding testing for the people incarcerated. That’s a really serious problem,” Fischer told New Times. “If you’re going to expand testing for the community, which is the right thing to do, and you’re going to expand staff, which is the right thing to do, it’s also the right thing to implement a robust testing system for folks incarcerated in jail.”

Raquel Zick, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that “inmates are tested based on CDC guidelines.”

In response to the new staff outbreak, Fischer co-wrote a letter to the Office of County Counsel on June 19. The letter asked that county agencies respond to these developments, with a particular emphasis on inmates “with disabilities, medical conditions, and other factors that place them at elevated risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, with an awareness of the disproportionate impacts on people of color.”

Fischer said that the jail incarcerates a disproportionate number of people of color when compared to the community at large, with about 60 percent of all inmates being Black or Hispanic in 2018, according to data from 2nd District County Supervisor Gregg Hart’s office. But of those who have been identified as being at a high-risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19, he said, people of color are even more disproportionately affected.

As class counsel, Fischer and his team have access to a list of the 97 people incarcerated in the county jail who are considered to be at this level of high health risk (about 15 percent of the jail population). Of those people, 76 percent are either black or Latino, Fischer’s letter states.

The letter also addresses the statewide zero bail policy, which is slated to expire on June 20. Several California counties have announced a policy extension in the last couple of days. Santa Barbara County isn’t one of those counties, Fischer noted.

Overall demands of the letter include releasing as many individuals as possible, with an emphasis on those who have the highest risk of serious complications from COVID-19; mass testing of the incarcerated population; extending the zero bail policy; and “an updated list of class members with risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness.”

Public Information Officer Zick said that the jail’s population was at 574 as of June 19, down from a daily average population of around 900 from before the pandemic.

“A lot of good work has been done by the Sheriff’s Office and the county to try and address the terrible risk of the pandemic at the jail,” Fischer said. “We need to continue that and not do anything that’s going to undermine the good work that’s been done.” ∆

—Malea Martin

Cunningham joins legislators asking for support of state’s clean energy industry

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2020 at 8:46 AM

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) is one of more than 50 state legislators to sign a letter urging federal lawmakers to support California’s clean energy industry and its workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) led the effort to craft this letter, which is addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who are both representatives from California.

The letter states that, like most sectors, the clean energy industry has been significantly affected by the ongoing public health crisis. It’s led to employees being unable to work, companies struggling with financial challenges, and projects being canceled or postponed.

According to the letter, in March alone, more than 100,000 clean energy jobs throughout the country were lost, nearly 20 percent of which were based in California.

“In order to ensure continued progress toward California’s climate change and energy resiliency goals, we must ensure that clean energy workers and businesses have the tools to emerge from this crisis and restore those jobs as quickly as possible,” the letter states.

In addition to the economic implications, the letter states that saving the industry is important as investment in clean energy can help customers save money on their bills. The letter also notes that a slowdown in the industry could affect the state’s goal of relying completely on clean energy by 2045.

In their letter, state legislators ask Pelosi and McCarthy to take a few direct actions to try and keep the clean energy industry afloat. This includes extending federal tax credits for clean energy technologies, as well as residential and commercial tax credits that promote energy efficiency.

“California is leading the nation in green technology development and jobs, showing that smart environmental policy can be smart economic policy,” Cunningham said in the news release. “However, for us to solidify the gains we have made and continue to grow, Congress must extend the investment tax credit so Californians can do what we do best: innovate, innovate, innovate.” ∆

—Zac Ezzone

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Santa Maria passes budget to allow faster reopening of pool, library

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Chants from a rally outside of Santa Maria City Hall filtered through the livestream of the June 16 City Council meeting discussing the proposed 2020-22 budget.

Organized by the Santa Maria Youth Abolitionists, the protest called for defunding the Santa Maria Police Department "as we work as a community towards the end of policing,” according to an Instagram post by Lompoc Democrats promoting the rally.

DEBATED DECISIONS After hours of discussion and public comment, Santa Maria City Council voted in the 2020-21 budget on June 16 with a couple key changes. - PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • DEBATED DECISIONS After hours of discussion and public comment, Santa Maria City Council voted in the 2020-21 budget on June 16 with a couple key changes.
“I think what we’re seeing as we’re hearing demonstrators outside is them wanting to bring our attention to the fact that we are defunding our human infrastructure, as [former 2nd District Santa Barbara County] Supervisor Janet Wolf would say,” Councilmember Gloria Soto later said.

The council ultimately voted to pass the budget, with the stipulation that the Paul Nelson Aquatic Center and Santa Maria Public Library open sooner than originally proposed. The Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety will also receive more funding than originally proposed.

So far, the city has lost $3.8 million because of the pandemic, and could be facing more than $10 million in revenue losses over the next two years, City Manager Jason Stilwell said.

The primary way the city will mitigate these losses is by digging into reserves. But the budget also proposed cuts to the pool and library for 2020-21 to save money, as these facilities were expected to remain closed anyway due to COVID-19. These cuts would have forced the pool to remain closed until January 2021, and the library through September 2020. But with ever-changing reopening guidelines, some residents were frustrated that the pool and library might be financially unable to open, even after health guidelines allow it.

During public comment, community members spoke in support of reopening the Paul Nelson pool and the Santa Maria library, objected to how much of the budget is allocated toward public safety, and expressed concerns over large budgetary cuts in other areas.

According to a pie chart Stilwell presented, 63 percent of 2020-21 general fund appropriations go to public safety, while 20 percent is allocated to general government, 12 percent to leisure and cultural services, and 5 percent to community and economic development.

Soto pointed out that cuts to the proposed budget would impact the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety. The year-end 2019-20 estimate for dollars spent on the task force comes to $48,412, but the proposed budget for 2020-21 would allocate just $11,214.

“As we are getting ready to approve, or as we talk about whether or not to approve tonight’s proposed budget, I really want us to consider the fact that we took $37,000 out of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force,” Soto said, emphasizing that the task force already received one of the smallest allocations of the budget before the cut.

Soto also brought up the results from a community survey she conducted.

Out of around 1,700 respondents, “70 percent of survey takers were adamant that community centers were important to them, including the library, community centers, and aquatics center,” Soto said.

Councilmember Etta Waterfield, who advocated strongly for reopening the pool as soon as possible, tossed around the idea of a 5 percent salary cut for city employees to try and close the gap in funding. She also inquired about using additional city reserves to address the pool and library closures, though Cordero objected to the idea.

“It’s a tremendous risk to use one-time money to finance ongoing expenses,” Cordero said.

Councilmember Michael Moats asked City Police Chief Phil Hansen to speak to the fact that the Santa Maria Police Department requested funds for body cameras, which were not reflected in the proposed budget.

“Body cameras are something that I believe are a public expectation at this point, and I think they would be good for us as a department. … It was determined that the money was not available to fulfill that request,” Hansen said. “I have hopes that, given the national dialogue that’s going on right now, there will be probably grant funding forthcoming from the federal government encouraging use of body cameras, and we can apply for that.”

City Manager Stilwell proposed using $558,000 from general capital funds to reopen the pool and library, when COVID-19 restrictions allow for it, as well as keep the task force funded.

With that, Waterfield made a motion to approve the budget with the option offered by Stilwell. The motion passed 4-1, with Soto voting no. Soto said she was uncomfortable voting yes without seeing the changes written into the budget, and without getting a chance to vote on the updated budget in a special meeting. ∆

—Malea Martin

Central Coast senior care facilities report COVID-19 outbreaks

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2020 at 9:35 AM

Two senior living facilities on the Central Coast are reporting internal COVID-19 outbreaks, one of which has led to at least five related deaths so far.

At Vista Rosa Living, an assisted living facility for seniors in San Luis Obispo, visitations from outsiders have been significantly limited since late December 2019 due to early COVID-19 concerns, according to Zoli Soo, an administrator with Rose Care Group. The organization runs a number of assisted living facilities in SLO County.

OUTBREAK Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Country Oaks Care Center restricted visits and set up a bench outside its lobby windows so family members could see their relatives while talking with them on the phone. But a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the nursing facility has led to five deaths so far. - PHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY OAKS CARE FACILITY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY OAKS CARE FACILITY
  • OUTBREAK Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Country Oaks Care Center restricted visits and set up a bench outside its lobby windows so family members could see their relatives while talking with them on the phone. But a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the nursing facility has led to five deaths so far.
But on June 13, a Vista Rosa resident who has long suffered respiratory issues complained that she was struggling to breathe. She was transported to a local hospital, where she was treated and tested for COVID-19. The next day, she informed staff that her test was positive, Soo told New Times. On Monday, June 14, a Vista Rosa caregiver who had been out sick for a few days called to inform staff that she too had tested positive.

Soo said the SLO County Public Health Department immediately went to Vista Rosa and tested all residents and employees—about 45 people total. As of June 16, he said three residents and four caregivers had tested positive for coronavirus.

“As of right now, no one is really feeling any symptoms except for the one resident who went to the hospital,” Soo told New Times, adding that the resident in question was stable and doing well as of June 16. “So we’re hoping somehow that it’s stayed with these individuals and that it’s going to be more asymptomatic than not.”

The outbreak aligns with a recent uptick in SLO County’s coronavirus cases. On June 16, the SLO County Public Health Department reported that 23 additional cases of COVID-19 had accumulated over the weekend, which it attributed mostly to close contact and community spread related to the county’s phased reopening.

Soo said that it’s still unclear how and where the first coronavirus case in Vista Rosa was contracted. Cleanliness has been a top priority for months while family and even home health service visitations have been limited. When COVID-19 initially hit, Rose Care Group stopped rotating most of its staff through its various facilities. Only a few staff who worked at Vista Rosa also worked at Rose Care’s facilities in Arroyo Grande, and those were in the clear as of June 16.

Now, Soo said Vista Rosa is working with SLO County Public Health to gather more information and limit the spread of the virus. All positive residents and staff are self-isolated, and staff members who are still vulnerable are all hoping to help their residents fight COVID-19.

“I guess that’s been one thing that’s beautiful to come out of this, is everyone coming together,” Soo said. “Really everyone is on board and ready to help and that’s been nice to see.”

Country Oaks Care Center, a 57-bed nursing home in Santa Maria, is grappling with an even more severe outbreak. In a statement released on June 16, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department said that 25 residents and 14 staff members at Country Oaks had tested positive for COVID-19.

The initial positive cases were reported on May 31. While the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department said its been working closely with the facility on mitigation, five related deaths have been reported so far. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Monday, June 15, 2020

Santa Barbara County grand jury raises concerns over emergency alert communications

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2020 at 5:19 PM

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recently released a report recommending changes to county communications with residents during public safety power shutoffs and other emergencies.

During a public safety power shutoff, a utility provider, such as Pacific Gas and Electric, turns off power lines to prevent them from sparking a fire during certain conditions. Potentially leaving people without power for days, shutoffs could be an issue for those who depend on electricity to run medical devices or refrigerate their medications, the report states.

POWER DOWN The Santa Barbara County grand jury criticizes public safety power shutoff communications with residents. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • POWER DOWN The Santa Barbara County grand jury criticizes public safety power shutoff communications with residents.
Utility companies try to contact customers dependent on electricity to run medical devices prior to a shutoff, but they can only do so if customers register for a program notifying the company of their devices. People who are not registered or who depend on electricity for other medical needs usually only receive extra attention during a shutoff from a county agency, the report states. In Santa Barbara County, people dependent on electricity for medical issues receive the same emergency notification as other residents.

“[The county Office of Emergency Management] does not make a separate or increased effort to notify people medically dependent on electrical power,” the report states. “For example, ReadySBC has no provision for including such information when signing up [for alerts.]”

The jury recommends that the county Board of Supervisors allocate funding to the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Department of Public Health to identify all county residents who are dependent on electricity for essential medical needs.

In addition, the jury found that residents who don’t understand either English or Spanish are at risk of missing warnings. The jury found the same is true for people whose landlords or property managers hold their electricity accounts.

“Mixtec languages are not included, but [the Office of Emergency Management] is working on them for both [public safety power shut offs] and emergencies,” the report states. “For [shutoffs], people whose electricity accounts are held by landlords or property managers need to sign up for Zip Code Alerts.”

In its report, the jury also criticizes county websites that residents would turn to during an emergency, including readysbc.org. The jury claims these websites are difficult to navigate and not connected to one another.

“Santa Barbara County’s emergency information and advice for the public is scattered over several websites, which are not coordinated, infrequently updated, sometimes confusing, and may not link to each other,” the report states.

Additionally, the jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors lobby the state Legislature to require power companies to receive input from local governments prior to initiating a power shutoff, which currently isn’t the case.

The jury lists five findings and a recommendation for each that it requests the county Board of Supervisors respond to within 90 days. Read the full report here. ∆

—Zac Ezzone
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