Ventura County Public Heath officer to release new Stay at Home order

April 16, 2020
Updates offer a wide array of topics related to COVID-19 impacts
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By Peggy Kelly, Marianne Ratcliff

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin will issue a new Stay Well at Home Order this week, encompassing all of his previous orders, modifying some of the current restrictions, and extending the order for people to stay at home for all but the most essential outings to May 15. His previous orders were set to expire April 19.

The county’s chief medical officer updated the Ventura County Board of Supervisors April 14 on what steps still need to be taken before the county Stay Well at Home Order can be lifted.

Supervisor Steve Bennett said that when businesses do reopen, business people will have a real interest in maintaining physical distancing in their stores so there is not a resurgence of COVID-19 that would require businesses to close again. Bennett asked Levin if it is possible for the revised order to allow bike sales, so that more people can ride bikes, with appropriate social distancing. Bennett also said he hoped Levin would consider allowing “drive-in” church services, so that people could attend church in their vehicles. For many, he said, “their church community is their family.”

Levin said the social-distancing measures that have worked for essential businesses, under his order, can also work for nonessential businesses when they are able to reopen. “When we talk about liberalizing things in the next order, those are the types of things we are looking at doing,” he said.

Ventura County reported 15 new cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus on Wednesday, but no deaths were added overnight from the 13 reported April 14, according to Levin.

During the April 15 videotaped update, Levin said those who died were between the ages of 51 and 89 years of age.

“Nine died in the hospital,” said Levin, and four at home.

The total number of cases as of April 15 was 365. “Ninety percent of cases that have been hospitalized have comorbidity,” the appearance of multiple illnesses, Levin said. Of the deaths, 11 were non-Hispanic whites, one Hispanic white and the race or ethnicity of one victim is unknown at this time.

In all, 6,508 people had been tested as of April 15.“Quite a jump since yesterday … it’s still only about one out of 20” have shown positive results, and some that show the symptoms of COVID-19 are found not to have the disease, he said.

Levin noted that 23 people are hospitalized, and eight of those were treated in the intensive care unit. In all, 68 patients have been hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment.

Protecting seniors

A new program will target the “biggest at-risk group” — seniors, Levin said. He explained that it is a priority to protect those in long-term care facilities by moving any patients with the virus to a hospital where they will be isolated. “I have wondered and wondered about if those” with comorbidity could perhaps be one in four people, Levin said. A nurse “had a very good idea” that pharmacies have a script and a handout of COVID-19 avoidance tips for those with comorbidity, as reflected by their prescriptions; “give them special education” about how to stay well. Such a program will be launched in several days, as well as a document

Face covering questions

Levin said he is preparing a report on the pros and cons of wearing a face covering in public. “I want to make decisions to wear face masks to be science-based, evidence- driven; we are doing really well in our county. The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance advising people wear face coverings while conducting essential business, and the cities of Los Angeles and Ojai have ordered people to wear them in stores. He said the number of potential cases that had been estimated has been significantly lowered due to so many people following the Public Health orders of standing at least 6 feet from others, washing hands often, not touching one’s face, and coughing and sneezing in the crook of the arm. “The greatest sorrow to me,” said Levin of physical distancing, is no “hugging or shaking hands.”

Exit strategy

Levin told the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on April 14 that he and county officials are reviewing what an “exit strategy” looks like — “how we ease out of the situation we find ourselves in.” At a press briefing a few hours later, Gov. Gavin Newsom talked about the state plan to lift state-issued stay-at-home orders. Newsom said, “The state vision will be realized at the local level.” He added that before restrictions are loosened, the state is working toward meeting six goals he outlined.  

Good results

Levin said he is heartened that his earlier prediction that up to 1,000 Ventura County residents might die from COVID-19 looks unlikely to occur. He said that, today, the prediction is significantly lower at about 250.    While a surge of COVID-19 cases has been anticipated to occur next week, Levin said it is possible a surge might be avoided in Ventura County, although it is prudent to prepare for the worst. “Our efforts have been a tremendous investment,” Levin said. “We'll see how well they pay off next week.”

Dr. John Fankhauser, head of Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital, reported at the supervisors’ meeting that in-patient admissions are down approximately 25 percent and that Emergency Room visits are down 50 percent from normal at the two hospitals. Levin recommended that people who are dealing with “stir-craziness” exercise.  

'Where is the finish line?'

Levin said everyone wants to know: “Where is the finish line?” When do people get “back to the life we had before all this began?” He said it could be “months off.” “It could be 10 months off, it could be 12 months off,” he said, but noted there are steps along the way. As to what might move the goal line, he said antibody tests could help determine how many people might be immune to COVID-19. He said there is a possibility “some of us may already have antibodies to this,” which needs to be studied.  

More testing needed

A “strategic plan to reopen” is starting to take place, Levin said. The “first phase” is containment, which includes identifying the cases of COVID-19 and quarantining them. That worked all right at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ventura County, he said, but it worked less well when there was community transmission. He said that even after hiring more nurses, contact tracing became more difficult as the number of affected people expanded. That is when the county moved to the “mitigation phase,” he explained, with contact tracing prioritized for people in high-risk professions, such as healthcare workers. Those who tested positive and were in low-risk positions were told to inform their contacts themselves. He explained that phase one resulted in the closing of schools, shopping centers, and mass gatherings.  To prepare for phase two, he said there should be “same-day, point-of-care testing” that is widespread and available in clinics for 2,000 people a week in Ventura County. He said that is a tall order, considering that, to date, in Ventura County, the total number of people tested is just shy of 6,000. He said that with more testing, the county may be able, ideally, to return to a containment strategy that will help to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases. He said that less-restrictive social distancing could lead to more COVID-19 cases, but that technological tools could assist in contact tracing, such as using cell phones to determine who might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Fever monitors could also help determine if there are clusters of people with fevers in a community, he said. He said the goal is to lift physical distancing carefully, with increased surveillance and testing, to allow the majority of businesses and schools to reopen.  


Levin said he would like to see: — an antibody study. — wider surveillance of cases. — adequate communicable disease staff. — a priority list of who will receive a COVID-19 vaccine first when one becomes available. Supervisor Kelly Long said that while supervisors are getting many comments from the public about the stay-at-home orders, the county Public Health officer is the one authorized to determine what they include.  For up-to-date Ventura County COVID-19 information, visit

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