Following the declaration of a public health emergency in Santa Barbara County due to the coronavirus, care facilities and senior citizen activity centers are setting stricter guidelines for visitors and activities to protect the community’s most vulnerable residents.
The emergency declaration, issued at a press conference Thursday night, prohibits gatherings of 250 or more people and encourages social distancing when possible among smaller groups. The announcement has caused school closures and cancellation of programs, events and activities throughout the city.
Doug Dougherty, president of the Oasis Center in Orcutt, said the center has been increasing its sanitation efforts and limiting classes, clubs and support groups for clients throughout the week. However, after Thursday's declaration, the center has closed and suspended all programs with plans to reopen Monday, depending on guidance from the county.
“We’re letting people know that things may change over the weekend. If we see it spreading in Santa Barbara County, we’ll reevaluate moving forward. Our client base of senior citizens is very susceptible…. the last thing we want is for our facility to be a place where [coronavirus] is spread to the senior population. We want to make sure that never, ever happens,” Dougherty said.
In his 10 years working as president at Oasis, Dougherty said the Oasis Center has never been shut down due to a public health emergency like this. The center’s annual gala fundraiser, which provides major funds for center activities and facilities, has been postponed until May after months of work from Oasis staff and various sponsors.
"Unfortunately, we had a pretty good idea that the county was going to make the decision they did, so we were able to get started by contacting instructors and so forth," Dougherty said.
Similar action was taken at Elwin Mussell Senior Center, which hosts classes and activities for senior citizens. The City of Santa Maria announced Friday that the facility will be closed until further notice and that all activities and programs planned for the rest of March are postponed or canceled.
Local care facilities including Atterdag Village in Solvang, Merrill Gardens in Santa Maria and the Comprehensive Care Center in Lompoc have implemented screening procedures involving a temperature check and a questionnaire about potential exposure to illness. Those showing signs of illness or with recent exposure to illness will not be permitted to enter the facilities.
Along with screening procedures, there are various levels of visitor restriction at the care facilities. The Comprehensive Care Center will be prohibiting all visitors beginning Monday, March 16, including family members, spokesperson Lorraine Jones said.
"For the safety of staff and residents, the Comprehensive Care Center is taking precautions regarding COVID-19 by stopping all visitations as of Monday, March 16. CCC administrative staff is working to ensure residents have access via Skype and Facetime to visit with their loved ones," Jones said.
Visitors are still permitted at Atterdag Village, but cannot enter the dining area with residents. At Merrill Gardens, any nonessential visitors including volunteers and entertainers are no longer hosted at the center.
Other coronavirus precautions have been in place at Merrill Gardens for the past week, with shopping trips and other outings canceled for residents, and community transportation limited to necessary medical appointments. As of Friday, all visitations are limited to personnel providing urgent medical services, hospice services or deliveries, all of whom will be screened upon entering the center.
Residents of Merrill Gardens are permitted to leave the facility on their own, but may not be allowed to reenter without being screened and evaluated.
At both Merrill Gardens and Comprehensive Care Center, drop-off stations will be set up outside for family and friends to leave letters, care packages and deliveries for residents.
As of Friday afternoon, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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