Pictured: Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health speaking in February at a press conference in Camarillo. Photo by Kimberly Rivers

by Kimberly Rivers


On Tuesday, March 17, Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health issued an order requiring all people over the age of 75 (70 if underlying health issues exist) to shelter in place and that certain businesses must close, or operate by delivery, take-out or drive-through only.

The order states, “Violation of any provision of this order constitutes a threat to public health.” The order is in effect beginning 12:01 a.m. on March 18, 2020 through 11:59 p.m. on April 1, 2020, unless extended or rescinded by Levin. (Online correction, There was a typo in the original story that was printed that says order is active through April 10, that is incorrect.)

Levin’s order states, “All permanent food facilities, as defined by Health and Safety Code § 113849, may only prepare and offer food that is provided to customers via delivery service, via pick-up for takeout dining, and via drive-thru.”

Businesses that are ordered to close completely are, “bars and nightclubs that do not serve food…movie theatres, live performance venues, bowling alleys, and arcades…gyms and fitness centers and aquatic centers…wineries, breweries and tap rooms that provide tastings.”

The order clarifies, “bars and nightclubs that offer food to consumers may remain open only for purposes of continuing to prepare and offer food to consumers via delivery service, via pick-up or via drive-thru.”

“Permanent food facilities that provide and offer food to consumers for pick up must require patrons or groups of patrons who are ordering food and beverages to be and remain at least six (6) feet apart from each other while inside the facility.”

Shelter in place order

All people aged 75 (over 70 with health issues) or older are “ordered to shelter at their place of residence.” If they are using shared or outdoor spaces “they must at all times as reasonably possible maintain physical distancing of at least six feet from any other person.” Exceptions are allowed “to seek medical care, nutrition, or to perform essential work in healthcare or government.”

Read the full order HERE. 

County hospital surge capacity

Dr. John Fankhauser, Chief Executive Officer of the Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC) said that whether we have enough beds for treating patients with the virus “depends on how well our county controls this outbreak. We have as a county implemented measures early, like social distancing measures of closing schools.” 

He said Ventura County has acted quickly compared to the south bay and King County. “Some of those measures may help us with flattening the curve and if that is the case we may not be overwhelmed.” VCMC has 16 isolation beds, and Santa Paula Hospital has four. County health officials have reported there are 80 total in the county. 

Fankhauser is a medical doctor and was in Liberia during the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak. For the first three months of the emergency he worked at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, which was the first center responding to the outbreak. He managed care for the ebola patients for three months, and then set up an Ebola survivors hospital where he served as CEO.

“Each of our hospitals is developing a surge plan for increasing capacity.” Steps include shifting some anesthesiologists from surgery to manage patients on ventilators. They are also looking to increase nursing staff and are moving nurses from other settings to patient care in the hospital. “EMS and public health have been coordinating that effort countywide for each hospital… [determining their] surge capacity,” said Fankhauser.

Shouldn’t we test everyone?

“Many who want to get tested are not people who should get tested…there’s a problem when you do a test in an extremely low risk population, you get more and more false positive tests. In order to be reliable, to perceive [the results] as helpful, you have to do [the testing] in a population that has appropriate symptoms and significant exposure.” He said in areas that are seeing a successful stemming of the spread, like South Korea, they did test a lot of people, but there were people who met the criteria. “They had very accessible testing, I don’t think that translates to everyone getting tested. In our county we have been fortunate [being]able to test hospitalized patients very early.”

Fankhauser acknowledges the public outcry around there not being enough access to testing.

“I think that is a national problem.” He emphasized the county laboratory that is equipped to test, and that Quest Diagnostics is involved and can handle up to 20,000 tests a day at their San Juan Capistrano lab. “That goes a long way to helping us. We are looking at ways to access more testing supplies so we can expand testing.”

Five drive through testing centers are slated to be active by the end of the week. One in Ventura, two in Oxnard, one in Fillmore and one in Moorpark and a drive-up center in Camarillo. With a seventh drive through site planned for Thousand Oaks. Those are just at the county ran clinics. Patients will be evaluated in their cars and the test will be conducted in their cars. 

“Public health measures are critical, people who are ill need to isolate themselves….if you have symptoms reach out to your doctor….The less physical contact people have with each other the more likely we are to bring this virus under control.”