The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department confirmed the sixth death of a COVID-19 patient on Friday, along with issuing a health order permitting specific businesses to remain open in conjunction with Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order.
The deceased individual was in their 60s and had underlying health conditions, according to the Public Health Department.
While Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg stated that the death occurred at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, the hospital sent out a press release Friday evening stating that no deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred at the facility.
The county also confirmed nine additional cases Friday for a total of 460 cases, with over 60% of cases recovered so far.
"This is a notable statistic," Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said of the recovery rate. "This trend is important, because the risk of transmission from our confirmed cases is also decreasing."
Public Health order
The Friday order, which seeks to clarify the businesses that qualify as essential under the stay-at-home order, distinguishes three types of businesses: those that can remain open with social distancing, those that can remain open with both social distancing and modified operations, and those that must close under the state order.
Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart made it clear that the Public Health Department's order does not ease the state's guidelines for sheltering at home, but is a clarification based on a list of essential services issued by the governor's office.
"County and city governments do not have the authority to lift the governor's order and allow businesses to reopen," Hart said at a Friday press conference. "This is not a relaxation of orders."
The first category includes faith organizations, social services, gas stations, grocery stores, medical facilities, outdoor activity areas and golf courses as essential services.
However, the county also issued a caveat Friday stating that public outdoor areas can only remain open as long the public respects social distancing advisories, and advised the public to maintian the practices during the upcoming period of warm weather.
Neighboring counties including San Luis Obispo and Ventura have closed public areas including hiking trails and beaches over the past month in response to crowding concerns, although Ventura has since reopened beaches.
The second category includes businesses or services that must limit certain operations to remain open. These include all food facilities, gun stores, real estate services, schools implementing distance learning, and housekeeping services.
The third category, which lists non-operable businesses during this time, includes the majority of indoor gathering spaces and beauty services, such as theaters, galleries, bars, gyms, libraries, hair salons, casinos and spas.
Task force for reopening
Hart also announced the creation of a task force to prepare county businesses over the next few weeks for gradually reopening through a phased reopening plan based on scientific guidance, under leadership of the Public Health Department and Assistant County Executive Officer Nancy Anderson.
The task force will include a panel of medical professionals, community leaders, industry experts and REACH director Melissa James, who has assisted San Luis Obispo County in creating a phased reopening plan.
"The community and commerce will be opened gradually and in phases, and will require all of us to adjust to a new normal," Anderson said.
She added that as part of the plans, the task force will hold an economic webinar for small businesses on April 29, where they can learn more about the Paycheck Protection Program, economic forecasts during the pandemic and other news from county business sectors.
Those interested in participating can register for the webinar on readysbc.org.
San Luis Obispo cases see uptick
San Luis Obispo County confirmed its highest daily case count yet on Friday with 14 additional cases for 163 in total.
After case updates showed increases of only a few cases per day for some weeks, Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein announced last week that the county would begin establishing a plan to gradually reopen businesses.
Although the past three days have shown a new spike in confirmed cases, Borenstein said the county still plans to proceed with its phased reopening plan due to the overall low case count.
"You may be asking with this increase of numbers, 'how does that comport with this phased reopening?' We are watching the new cases closely. ... we are not going to be overly reactive to two or three days of relatively low numbers still," Borenstein said Friday.
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