While there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, local hospitals are being instructed by county and state public health departments on how to prepare for a local outbreak.
Per guidelines from the California Public Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county hospitals have been instructed to educate medical staff about response and treatment for potentially affected individuals, ensure the availability of respiratory disease resources and sanitizing supplies, and provide instructions to the public for limiting the spread of the virus.
Staff are also instructed to monitor updates about the health crisis and any recommended actions from the county and state public health departments as well as the Centers for Disease Control.
At Cottage Health hospitals located in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Goleta, staff are communicating with public health agencies and ensuring that they have the supplies and training they need, Cottage Health spokesperson Maria Zate said.
"We have an interdisciplinary team meeting daily to ensure each of our hospitals are prepared with training and supplies needed to respond if the virus enters our community. Cottage Health's Infection Prevention and Control specialists work with public health agencies, and our staff is trained to ensure appropriate precautions for communicable diseases," Zate said.
At Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Scott Robertson, Chief Medical Officer for the Central Coast Division of Dignity Health, said the hospital is following all California Department of Public Health requirements regarding care for patients with respiratory illness, including the coronavirus.
As concern over the virus has escalated face masks, hand sanitizer and other sanitization supplies have disappeared from public store shelves, and some have raised concerns about the potential for supplies being taken from medical professionals. However, both Dignity and Cottage Health hospitals in Santa Barbara County said they possess sufficient sanitizing supplies.
"Currently we have supplies and equipment needed for typical usage patterns as well as disaster supply stocks, but we continue to look ahead to prepare for potential changes in supply needs," Zate said.
Hospitals are also instructed to ensure that negative-pressure airborne infection isolation rooms are working, and that staff are properly trained to use respirators when needed. For patients being observed for possible infection, Robertson said Marian would ensure support for the patient while maintaining isolation as long as necessary.
“The patient would be placed in an isolated environment and, in consultation with Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County public health agencies, determine if diagnostic testing is indicated, as well as the duration and location of isolation or other supportive measures. If the patient needs hospitalization, we would provide the appropriate course of support and treatment,” Robertson said.
An individual under investigation for a suspected case of coronavirus in San Luis Obsipo County was tested on March 5, but the test came back negative, according to the county Public Health Department.
Among its county hospitals, Cottage Health has 34 negative pressure rooms at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, 11 at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital and two at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, Zate said.
Zate added, however, that most coronavirus cases do not require hospitalization, and that to relieve the pressure on health care facilities, the Centers for Disease Control has been encouraging "telemedicine," or phone triage services for patients with minor cases who do not require emergency care.
This method is being employed by the county Public Health Department for tracking asymptomatic individuals at risk for contracting the virus after traveling to countries of concern. Such individuals are self-isolated in their homes and instructed to check in twice a day with health department officials for two weeks to communicate any changes in symptoms.
Cottage Health hospitals, as well as Lompoc Valley Medical Center, have also placed signage at their locations with special guidelines for visitors who think they might have been exposed to the virus to follow before entering the hospital.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency this week, thousands of testing kits were provided to California laboratories by the Centers for Disease Control. In counties with confirmed cases, hospital staff are instructed to contact their local public health department if they believe someone is exhibiting clear virus symptoms, at which point health departments will determine whether samples should be sent to laboratories for confirmation.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 516 people in California have been tested for the virus as of March 6.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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