Tri-Counties ask to be separate in COVID-19 considerations

Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties are banding together in hopes of creating a separate region specifically for the Central Coast. 

At a press conference on Dec. 3, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced another new system for tracking and slowing California’s currently exploding cases of COVID-19, a process that splits the state up into five regions where stay-at-home orders are triggered when the area’s intensive care unit (ICU) availability drops to or below 15 percent. Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties were lumped into the Southern California region—which includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties—and the pushback was almost immediate.  

click to enlarge Tri-Counties ask to be separate in COVID-19 considerations
A DIFFERENT SITUATION : A chart included in a Dec. 7 letter from the Tri-Counties to the state show how the Central Coast’s ICU availability rates differ from those in Southern California.

In a Dec. 7 letter addressed to acting State Health Officer Erica Pan, public health officers and directors in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties wrote that while they agree with using a hospital-based metric to trigger safety regulations, “the utilization of such a large and diverse regional assignment is not reflective of the risks for our Central Coast area.” 

“Unlike the rest of the Southern California regional boundaries being utilized for COVID-19 mitigation, we strongly anticipate that the three weeks in [regional stay-at-home order] will allow us to rapidly reset our case rates and testing positivity, and further improve our ICU capacity,” the letter reads. 

A chart included in the letter shows that while the availability of adult ICU beds in the Southern California Health Officer Region dropped from about 20 percent on Nov. 27 to around 10 percent on Dec. 7, the Central Coast’s availability has hovered at around 30 percent since Nov. 27, dropping to its lowest level at 25 percent availability on Dec. 4, but increasing again shortly after. 

At a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 8, Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso presented a COVID-19 update and discussed the Tri-Counties letter. Santa Barbara County has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations—as of Dec. 8, there were 643 active cases, 54 hospitalizations, and 138 deaths recorded in the county—but Do Reynoso said ICU availability remains adequate. 

Roughly 45 Santa Barbara County residents called in to the Dec. 8 meeting and called on the supervisors to write their own letter to the state in support of a separate Central Coast region, saying that another shutdown without much government assistance would slaughter struggling local businesses throughout the area. 

The board unanimously voted to officially request that the Tri-Counties be separated from the Southern California region. 

“Other rural areas didn’t have much and then they had a big surge,” 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said at the meeting, “but we’ve had compliance and support by our population and it’s as if we’re being punished for having behaved well.”

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