PICTURED: A graphic of the coronavirus, which has caused a pandemic throughout the world and has had severe repercussions in Ventura County.

by Kimberly Rivers


County officials have declared an emergency; most cities have done the same. Schools are closed and toilet paper shelves are bare. Social media is humming with information from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and all manner of health experts.

While aspects of this emergency may appear similar to the recent fires in the area, the nature of a pandemic is different. It really requires a faith and trust in our local officials in a unique way.

Are we prepared?

At a Camarillo press conference in February, Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health (VCPH) said that “all hospitals” were prepared to receive patients.

Of the 1,292 hospital beds in Ventura County, only 80 of them are capable of properly quarantining patients being treated for COVID-19, reported Ashley Bautista, public information officer for the county of Ventura.

Called isolation or infectious disease beds, they ensure the patient with the virus does not infect the rest of the hospital. Special cleaning protocols also apply between patients in the rooms.

“We anticipate more cases and increased community spread as more cases are reported in neighboring counties and throughout the state,” said Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health. “Please do not call 911 to request testing for COVID-19 and please do not go to our emergency rooms unless you are seriously ill and require emergency care. If you have respiratory illness and want to know if you should be tested for COVID-19, it is best to call your health care provider or, if you don’t have a provider, call 2-1-1 for help finding a clinician near you. Our healthcare providers are prepared to see more cases, but we must all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to minimize strain on our healthcare system and other service providers,” 

“Although there is still no person to person transmission in our County, my first priority is to protect the public health of our residents by taking proactive measures,” said Levin in a written statement. “We encourage community members and organizations to do their part to help slow the spread of this virus. Our local healthcare system is well prepared to treat more cases should the need arise, particularly among vulnerable populations that require significant clinical care.”

On March 15, Bautista stated in an email to the VCReporter, “drive-thru testing is being conducted throughout the county.”

Levin was unable to respond by press deadline to questions about whether 80 isolation beds were enough and whether the county would be able to prepare more beds for treatment if needed. Bautista said she didn’t have any information about federal resources coming to Ventura County, including the high-throughput tests and personnel mentioned at a weekend press conference at the White House.

Community impact

While as of press deadline (Wed., March 18, 11 a.m.) there is still just one confirmed case, and nine presumed positive (initial tests are positive and awaiting CDC confirmation) cases — all related to travel exposure — health officials, state and local leaders are following the protocols for stopping the spread of the virus by closing schools, and asking the public to self-isolate and practice social distancing, or staying a minimum of six feet away from others.

The toilet paper aisle at Vons on 2764 Thompson, Ventura

Got toilet paper? You’ve seen it in national news and Ventura County is not immune to the empty shelves that toilet paper once occupied. Managers of local stores emphasize that there are no actual shortages of anything, it’s just that people are buying much more than normal, and they can’t restock the shelves fast enough.

On March 15, California Gov. Gavin Newsom strongly urged bars, wineries and nightclubs to close and for restaurants to cut their capacity in half. Local businesses are adapting to the situation.

The Refill Shoppe (www.therefillshoppe.com ) in downtown Ventura is temporarily closing to the public, but is set up now to receive web and phone orders for “touch-free pickup,” or shipping directly to the customer..

Majestic Oak Vineyard (www.majesticoakvineyard.com ) has shut their tasting room but will be offering local deliveries and scheduled pick-ups. MadeWest Brewing (madewest.com) has closed both taprooms (in Ventura, on Donlon Street and the Ventura Pier) and is offering next-day, door-to-door delivery service, with ordering available online. The brewing company will also offer limited pickup hours.

Some yoga teachers are offering videos online while therapy protocols are allowing video conferencing-style online sessions.

Most restaurants are equipped for take-out orders but not all of them offer delivery. Thus, some are adapting by using third-party delivery services (many were already available through GrubHub) while curbside pickup and drive-through options are becoming more popular.

Fresh and Fabulous (www.myfreshandfabulous.com) in downtown Oxnard is providing drive-through delivery to your car, and Otani’s (www.otanis-seafood.com) in Oxnard already has online ordering set up on its website. With a phone app you can schedule a pickup or delivery. Waterside (www.watersidechannelislands.com) at Channel Island Harbor states on its website that it is following all of the cleaning protocols and, “If you can’t come to us, we will come to you.” By March 23, a third-party delivery service will be set up for select menu items, including the weekend brunch menu on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. During select hours, curbside pickup will be available.

Native Pizza (www.nativepizza.com) in midtown Ventura has gone to delivery only with no extra charge and online ordering is already set up. Ventura Sandwich Company (www.venturasandwichcompany.com) is feeding kids for free with a regular sandwich purchase and offering discounts to healthcare workers.

A great way to support local businesses even if you can’t get to them now is to buy a gift certificate to be enjoyed when things get back to normal.

Other closures

The Marketplace at Ventura College — similar to a swap meet, with over 300 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to jewelry to tools — has also been cancelled for three weeks, beginning last weekend, to comply with the California Department of Public Health recommendations of cancelling all large events with over 250 people to help reduce the spread of the virus. (Online correction, March 19, 2020: the Marketplace normally occurs on both Saturday and Sunday, both days are cancelled for three weeks.)

“We know that the closure will impact many in the community who visit the Marketplace to shop for fresh produce and other items,” says Anne Paul King, executive director of the Ventura College Foundation, in a written statement. “The public has come to rely on the Marketplace for all their basic living items. For our vendors, the Marketplace is a major source of revenue.”

Refunds will be provided to vendors who have already paid for booth space.

Senior Concerns announced that it will be closing its adult day care facility through the end of March to adhere to the recommendations from VCPH regarding social distancing. It will also be cancelling all in-person meetings, including support groups and seminars. The Meals on Wheels program will remain active and anyone needing the service can call the staff at 805-496-2009.

The Ventura chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is cancelling all in-person meetings but local leaders are available via phone and email to provide support. Information is available online at www.facebook.com/PFLAGVentura/.

Any person in crisis for any reason can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Trying to get tested in Ventura County

Information and understanding around who should be tested for the novel coronavirus is varied and moving fast among the public. VCPH is clear on the protocol for getting tested. But according to many, their experiences of trying to get tested do not match with what officials say should be taking place.

Tami Brown and Jimmy Lee Durbin Jr., both in their late 40s, recently moved to Ventura from Boise. They travelled back to Idaho and then to San Francisco, where they visited friends and family from March 9 to March 14th.

“Being on the road, we did not know about the docking of the cruise ship and the people quarantined there at the time,” said Durbin. He was referring to the Grand Princess cruise ship that came into San Francisco and which the public would later learn had a large number of passengers infected with the novel coronavirus. “But knowing we were up and down the docks and all the piers from Pier 1 to Pier 33 and the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, we did not want to just assume that we would not be at risk.” 

On March 14, Durbin drove Brown to the Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC) because she was exhibiting many of the symptoms of the virus. Now informed about the ship, they believed it was possible they had been exposed to the virus.

As new residents, Brown and Durbin have not yet switched over their Medical to Ventura County, and do not have local primary care doctors. They are staying with in-laws and visiting grandchildren. They wanted to “ensure their safety by stopping at the hospital after having many of the symptoms . . . runny nose, up and down fever, sore throat, throat closing up, preventing eating, coughing.”

“We drove straight into the emergency section of the hospital,” said Durbin. Brown got out of the car and went to the emergency room to check in and was met by a woman at the door. This woma asked Brown a few questions and requested that she return to her car, but stay there. Durbin recalled that the woman said, “according to our circumstances she definitely could get tested but to wait in our care for them to call her . . . and stay away from anyone else.”

When Brown was called into the ER, “She went in, was directed to another nurse who treated her so rudely . . . started shouting for Tami to stay back six feet.” Brown was told she would not be tested there but that she needed to see a doctor. Brown agreed to see a doctor, but only at a location where she could also be tested. Durbin and Brown explained to the nurse, “We were told that could happen here both over the phone and [by] the nurse at the door.” They knew that tests were not available everywhere.

“The nurse and now a security officer approached . . . made the situation worse. Now we felt we were being attacked,” Durbin said.

Brown did not receive a test at VCMC, nor did she see a doctor. About an hour later they read news reports about one confirmed case in the county and they felt, “a little more mad at the way we were just handled.”

On March 15 via email Durbin wrote to the VCReporter, “Tami has been laid out in bed all day today, in and out of sleep, only up once to use the restroom. We are trying to stay away from my mom and father since they are close to their 70s.”

He said they had called, “over 10 other hospitals including Kaiser Permanente, Community Memorial, CMH Center for Family Health and multiple Ventura County Urgent Cares. Everyone that was open and that we got hold of a real live person confirmed they were not testing for the virus at this time and did not know anyone who was at this time.”

Durbin and Brown are both staying in self-quarantine, “but we have to go first thing to social services to get her Medi-Cal so we can go see a primary doctor,” said Durbin. He expressed frustration that they have to visit several locations, which could lead the virus spreading. “So this is so frustrating because of the not-well-thought-out procedures in place.” He also acknowledged the “overworked and stressed out healthcare workers, treating the potentially critically sick as if they are criminals in a prison, is in no way right or should be happening. It’s sad.” 

Online resources:

Countywide information on status of virus: www.vcemergency.com

Facebook page for local info and updates managed by Ventura County: www.facebook.com/groups/868716840244142/.

Grupo Informativo de Coronavirus del Condado de Ventura – OFICIAL- https://www.facebook.com/groups/2367667666668715/

Ventura County Office of Education info: www.vcoe.org/news/ArticleID/4714/coronavirus.

California Department of Public Health: www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/ncov2019.aspx.

World Health Organization: www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019