SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - There are now 27 people in Santa Barbara County being treated in area hospitals for COVID-19 with 11 of them in intensive care.
County doctors said on Monday the most acute patients are now able to be treated with an experimental drug called Remdesivir.
"I am proud to say that our hospitals are taking part in new experimental treatment options for severe COVID-19 cases, and last week we were fortunate to receive the first allotment of the new drug Remdesivir from the state public health department that went directly to Lompoc and Marian hospitals for treatment," said Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg.
On Monday, Dr. Ansorg said the county received an additional 126 vials for use in hospitals.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons of Cottage Hospital said she worked closely with the county to fairly and ethically allocate the much smaller first Remdesivir shipments.
"When the very first 10 doses, not 10 courses, 10 doses of this medication that requires 6 doses for even the most minimal treatment course, when the first 10 doses came through late last week, Dr. Ansorg, myself, representatives from Marian Medical Center, from Lompoc Valley Medical Center reviewed the current census of the patients in our county where there are the most cases and the most need. It was the most appropriate that the two hospitals with the highest numbers of cases, the most acute cases on Friday, received those shipments."
A larger amount of the medication arrived on Monday and will be going to all three hospitals in the county caring for coronavirus patients.
They include Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Lompoc Valley Medical Center in Lompoc and Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara.
Doctors said they are stumped by why Santa Maria has more cases than other communities. They said the cases are spread out and don't show an outbreak among any one group.
"The exciting news I think I can reveal right now is that a big shipment, that Dr. Ansorg mentioned this afternoon, is actually already en route to Cottage Hospital and a patient has already been identified that could potentially benefit from this treatment, so I think it's an exciting opportunity with the medication with all three hospitals in our community receiving a fairly large allocation later today."
Dr. Fitzgibbons said the hospitals caring for the sickest of the sick now have another tool to fight this illness thanks to Remdesivir.
But she said the improvements are subtle and that is it far too early to say how the experimental drug is working.
She said the preliminary data shows a 4 day improvement and possibly an improvement in mortality.
"This is an exciting option, it may well help some people, and we are absolutely emphasizing it, using it for everyone who we can, who would qualify, but it is going to be weeks, if not months before we have a better sense as to what impact it is really having on our patients."
Health leaders also weighed in on the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
"Now is not the time for visitors, hotels are only open for essential workers and not for leisure travel this month," said Dr. Ansorg.
The county will be able to open more retail shops and restaurants and summer activities for children if they can prohibit the spread of the virus.
But all the reopening will depend on the infection and hospitalization rates.
If they remain stable, more businesses can open, and if they go up, restrictions will go back in place.
Dr. Ansorg recommends wearing face coverings when in stores or indoors and avoiding gatherings outside of homes.
If infection and hospitalization rates remain stable or drop, the county can return to a new normal with the Governor's approval.