Coronavirus preparations underway in Santa Barbara and Ventura

A Xenex robot uses high-intensity UV light to kill germs at Cottage Hospital. Photo courtesy of Cottage Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached six continents, and now cases are appearing in Ventura County. 

Universities like UCSB and Cal State Channel Islands are moving their classes online, and arts and cultural events are being canceled or postponed. 

KCRW spoke with local officials and decision makers about their emergency plans for when the outbreak intensifies.

Ventura County Public Health Department

As of March 13, Ventura County has one confirmed case of COVID-19 and two presumptive cases, which still need secondary confirmation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Each case is travel-related. T he first patient was a passenger on a Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico, the second recently traveled to Italy, and the third returned from Egypt.

All three remain quarantined at home.

“The public health laboratory has a certain capacity for testing,” says Ventura County Public Health Officer Robert Levin. “We don't want to take too many tests in any given day because that slows things down. Right now, we've got a turnaround of somewhere between four and six hours."

He says right now, the tests should be reserved for patients who are quite ill.

“By the end of next week, there should be a total of 4 million [tests] distributed throughout the nation,” he says. “That sounds like quite a bit, but that's only enough for a little bit over 1% of the entire U.S. population.”

Ventura Public Schools

13 school districts in Ventura County will be closed for at least one week starting Monday, March 16.

  • Briggs School District
  • Conejo Valley Unified School District
  • Fillmore Unified School District
  • Moorpark Unified School District
  • Mupu School District
  • Oak Park Unified School District
  • Ojai Unified School District
  • Oxnard School District
  • Oxnard Union School District
  • Pleasant Valley School District
  • Santa Paula Unified School District
  • Simi Valley Unified School District 

Santa Barbara Public Health Department

As of March 13, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County. According to county officials, some people have been asked to self-quarantine because they traveled to certain locations, but most have already been cleared.

“Our public health lab is not set up to do COVID-19 testing, but Ventura and San Luis Obispo can process about 42 lab tests a day,” says Paige Batson, the Santa Barbara County Deputy Director of Community Health. “It's an issue of capacity at this time. If there is a greater demand, maybe there will be other options in terms of capacity.”

Batson says contact your primary care physician if you’re experiencing painful breathing, shortness of breath, or a long fever over multiple days. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, contact the Public Health Department at 805-681-5280.

Right now, she only suggests certain people get tested: those who need to be hospitalized, people 65 and older (especially those with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes), and anyone who has recently traveled to highly impacted countries.

She recommends that those who are developing symptoms but are not critically ill should stay home and self-quarantine.

Santa Barbara Public Schools

Santa Barbara High School is one of more than 20 campuses managed by the Santa Barbara Unified School District. As of March 13, it remains open. Photo courtesy of SBUSD.

All public schools in Santa Barbara will close by Wednesday, March 18.

“The Thomas Fire and the debris flow, unfortunately, gave us an opportunity to really practice,” said Santa Barbara Unified School District assistant superintendent Frann Wageneck. “With the Thomas Fire, once the air quality was unhealthy, that was a one-day turnaround in terms of a decision.”

Cottage Hospital

There are 62 airborne infectious isolation rooms throughout five hospitals in Santa Barbara County. Cottage Hospital has 47 beds in negative pressure isolation rooms, which are designed to prevent cross-contaminations for patients with airborne infections. 

“The air is sucked into the room from the hallway and then evacuated out through a ventilator, so there's no organism that's being carried from this room through the air out to the hallway where other people and patients are,” says infectious disease specialist Dr. David Fisk, a physician at Cottage Health.

A negative pressure room, designed to prevent cross-contamination from patients with airborne infections. Photo courtesy of Cottage Health.

Before entering the room, healthcare workers are required to suit up in the “anteroom,” putting on gowns, masks, gloves and face shields to protect themselves.

A sign outside the Cottage Hospital entrance tells people who think they may have COVID-19 to stay outside and call hospital staff for a mask. Photo credit: Kathryn Barnes/KCRW.

“At Cottage, our testing is focused on people who are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital,” says Fisk. “Cottage is not the site in the community for people with minimal symptoms to get tested.”

Those who are tested get swabbed in their mouth and the back reaches of their noise.

Fisk says Santa Barbara County could see a significant number of cases, and Cottage is well prepared to handle patients who require admission and care.

UCSB Abroad

UC Santa Barbara has suspended its spring study abroad programs in China, South Korea and Italy.

Faculty Director Juan Campo and his staff are reaching out to the roughly 60 students in those programs and tracking their return to the U.S.

“[We want to] find out what their [travel] plans are and encourage them to follow the recommendations for self-quarantine and reporting any illnesses that might reflect symptoms of the coronavirus,” says Campo.

If necessary, Campo says the school will provide proper housing for infected students so they’re less likely to expose others.

“So far, we haven't gotten any indication that that would need to be done, but it's something we have in mind,” he says.


For information on the number of cases in your community and what to do if you or a family member notices COVID-19 symptoms, visit the online portals created by Santa Barbara and Ventura County . You can also call the Santa Barbara County Public Health COVID-19 call center at (833) 688-5551.