Pictured: Ventura County Public Health encourages the public to abide by social distancing orders while being active outside. 

by Kit Stolz

Last Saturday, Dr. Robert Levin, the Ventura County Health Officer, modified and re-issued the county’s Stay Well at Home order requiring all persons living in the county to stay at home except for essential and approved activities. The nineteen-page order, first issued on March 20 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, was modified with new details for essential businesses, requiring them to post their social distancing protocols on a public notice outside the business to stay open, and allowing golf courses and county parks to reopen with social distancing protocols in place. The order will remain in place at least until May 15. 

“We need to continue to be diligent,” Levin said in a phone interview. “Our county has done a wonderful job so far of social distancing. This new order that came out Saturday night liberalizes the requirements in ways we think are safe and verifiable, and will hopefully allow for the flow of a little more business activity, and also a little more physical activity.”

Ventura County’s COVID-19 numbers compare well to most of its Southern California neighbors. According to VCEmergency.com and a COVID-19 dashboard maintained by the state, as of Wednesday, April 22, the county had 29 people hospitalized with COVID-19 among its approximately 848,000 residents, with 11 patients in intensive care. Since the first reported case in April, the county has listed a total of 443 cases and has suffered 13 deaths. County health officials said last week that the number of new cases reported to health officials peaked on March 23, when 22 new cases were reported, and the number of new hospitalizations peaked on April 4, with 20.

Levin continues to warn of the possibility of a second wave of infections peaking in the county in late May, but at present notes that the county is recording new cases at a much slower rate than three weeks ago. In California now the rate of infection is 81 cases per 100,000 people; in Ventura County, it’s about 52. The state as a whole has seen 3 people per 100,000 die due to coronavirus; in Ventura County, it’s about 2 per 100,000. 

“Our daily numbers are still increasing but at a much slower and more manageable rate,” Levin said. “There was a time not so long ago when our doubling rate was 3.4 days — now it’s 15.1 days.” 

The virus has spread especially fast in long-term care facilities around California, where older people are well known to be vulnerable. On Friday, the state released an eye-opening list of over 200 long-term care facilities in California that have recorded more cases of COVID-19 among either patients or staff or both. The county of Los Angeles, the hardest-hit in the state, included over 75 facilities infected with COVID-19, including some large facilities with dozens of cases in both staff and patients.

Ventura County, which has over 240 long-term care facilities, had just two institutions known to have positive cases: the Camarillo Healthcare Center and the Glenwood Care Center. Both were listed by the state as having fewer than 10 cases, and no positive results among staff. Levin said that the public health department has been working closely with nursing facilities to reduce risks, knowing how vulnerable older populations are to this new disease. 

“We’ve been meeting with these facilities on a regular basis and I’m impressed with how earnest they are in trying to keep COVID out of their particular institutions,” he said. “We have an excellent communicable diseases section, and they are all over these institutions if they get a case.” 

Levin added that as of Friday night his department launched a new program that will require local hospitals to admit patients from long-term care facilities who test positive for COVID until the patient is no longer infectious and can be safely returned. 

“I believe that this is new to the state if not the nation,” he said. “If you look at the state guidance and the guidance from the CDC, you see an obvious concern as to how to keep these people safe in their long-term care institutions. But the vast majority of these institutions don’t see this kind of thing often and don’t have the skills and the confidence that comes with practice and repeated exposure to this kind of issue. I just think it’s unfair for these institutions to protect everybody else, so we’re taking that on for them.” 

Levin said that this program had been in the works since March. “Our first order in the county was to protect our elders. We’ve been moving in this direction for weeks as part of our effort to protect our elders.” 

Levin encouraged healthy members of the county to stay active to reduce their overall health risks. 

“We’ve had 13 deaths [in total from COVID], and 11 of those were over 70, and the other two had uncontrolled morbidities,” Levin said. “This is a time to control your co-morbidities, to get out there and walk and exercise and bicycle and do stuff and be active. Don’t use this quarantine to catch up on all the TV shows you’ve missed over the years.”