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Santa Barbara County to ask governor for more discretion on reopening criteria
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Santa Barbara County to ask governor for more discretion on reopening criteria

Supervisors, health director say epidemiology goal unreachable

051220 Penitentiary support .jpg

A sign hung on a fence outside the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution reads "Thank you FCI USP staff thank you LVMC supports you," apparently referring to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and Lompoc Valley Medical Center.

Santa Barbara County will send a letter to the governor asking for more discretion on the criteria for accelerating the current stage of reopening the economy, including pulling the federal prison’s numbers out of the COVID-19 statistics.

Supervisors unanimously approved the letter that disagrees with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s requirement of only one new case of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents plus zero deaths in the previous 14 days for the county to show they have met the criteria that allows lower-risk businesses to open.

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Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso said the county already meets or will soon meet all the other state criteria to accelerate the second phase of reopening the economy, but those two will be difficult if not impossible to meet.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino questioned how no deaths in two weeks would be a useful metric from a health-care perspective.

“My professional opinion, it doesn’t make sense to me either … especially given our demographics, our significant number of our population have significant underlying medical conditions as well as [being] above 65,” Do-Reynoso said.

She said she sent a letter to the California Department of Public Health asking the state to reconsider the metrics and noting the county currently has the ability to protect its health-care system as well as vulnerable populations.

“I received a very polite response to my email that said ‘thank you for sharing your local need and, unfortunately, we are unable to consider them at this time,’” Do-Reynoso said, adding most of her counterparts at other counties share her opinion.

“For the most part, I think all of us can meet the variance criteria except the [epidemiological] … it seems an insurmountable metric for the counties to achieve at this time.”

The letter points out the county’s population includes 15% over 65 years old, 6% with diabetes, 27% with hypertension, 5% with COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, 13% with asthma and 23% who are obese.

All are underlying conditions that increase the likelihood of death for those who contract COVID-19.

The letter also takes issue with the requirement for one new case per 10,000 residents in 14 days, which would mean no more than 45 cases even as the state is requiring increased testing, which will result in increasing numbers of positive results.

The county rate for COVID-19 cases is 11%, but the rate at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex is 67%, the letter says, so it asks to have the positive results among inmates excluded from the count, although correctional staff members who test positive are part of the community and would be considered in the county’s total.

Copies of the letter will be sent to state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assembly members Monique Limón and Jordan Cunningham.

Supervisors said they hope other counties will sign on to the letter or send similar letters of their own.

If the county is able to meet the governor’s criteria for accelerating implementation of the second phase of recovery, businesses that would be allowed to reopen include destination retail stores, including shopping malls and swap meets, car washes and tanning facilities, office-based businesses, dine-in restaurants but not bars or gaming areas, schools and child care facilities and outdoor museums and open gallery spaces.

However, counties will not be allowed to implement the third stage of the state’s “resilience roadmap,” where higher-risk sectors could adapt and reopen, until the governor gives the OK.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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