The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced Tuesday that it will continue its indoor masking mandate until at least the first week of November.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the existing indoor mask mandate will remain in effect through Nov. 5 and will be lifted when case rates are less than six per 100,000 for two weeks.
The county instated its indoor masking mandate for all, regardless of vaccination status, during the first week of August after seeing a surge in cases associated with the highly transmissible delta variant. But recently, the county has witnessed an “encouraging” downward trend in cases, spurring the department to consider lifting the indoor mask mandate if these trends continue, Dr. Do-Reynoso said Tuesday.
According to the latest data from the Public Health Department, the 34 new cases reported on Monday signify a 62% decrease from the previous two-week average. As of Sept. 30, the county’s case rate is 11.5 per 100,000.
While these trends show positive progress, Dr. Do-Reynoso told the board Tuesday that the indoor mask mandate could be reinstated if the county sees another surge in case rates, if there are new circulating variants of concern or if there is reduced hospital capacity. She also reminded Supervisors that indoor masking in schools, health care settings and congregate living facilities will remain in effect even if the county rescinds its Health Officer Order because these areas are under public health orders from state agencies.
To ensure that case rates continue to trend downward, Dr. Do-Reynoso stressed the importance of a layered approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday. She likened protections such as having good ventilation, wearing a mask, social distancing and getting the COVID-19 vaccine to slices of swiss cheese.
“While there are holes in slices of swiss cheese, by combining the slices, we get a layered approach that leads to fewer holes. This is the same, this is true for the COVID-19 prevention strategies,” the public health director said. “The strongest protection comes from getting vaccinated. Protection (also) comes from wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing hands often and having good ventilation in indoor spaces. Each of these are important ways to reduce the risks of getting COVID-19, but become really highly effective when one combines them.”
Both Dr. Do-Reynoso and Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, addressed misinformation that has been circulating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at Tuesday’s meeting. Both officials agreed that misinformation is concerning and can thwart people from following scientifically proven methods for slowing the spread of the virus.
“If somebody repeats false claims again and again and again, that false claim does not become reality,” Dr. Ansorg said Tuesday. “And I’m concerned, quite frankly, that the constant, public repetition of falsehood and unsubstantiated claims may actually influence or leave the audience insecure and uncertain about actual facts. And that is a concern to me.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Do-Reynoso also provided supervisors with an overview of COVID-19 cases among children and teens ages zero to 18. Between March 2020 and September 2021, the county reported 5,893 COVID-19 cases among children and teenagers 18 and younger.
A breakdown of these cases revealed that 3,783 infections occurred among Hispanic and Latino children, 841 cases occurred among white children and 682 were “missing” a race/ethnicity assignment. Dr. Do-Reynoso acknowledged Tuesday that most of the children in Santa Barbara County are Hispanic or Latino.
Santa Maria had the highest rate of cases among children with over 2,000 cases recorded. This is followed by 1,034 cases reported in Santa Barbara and 792 cases reported in Lompoc.
Before concluding Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, supervisors received a brief presentation from George Chapjian, the Community Services Department director, who provided an update on Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) that remains available for tenants.
Throughout the pandemic, the United Way of Santa Barbara County has been overseeing the issuance of ERA to qualified county residents. In the first round of ERA allocation, the county received over $13 million in funding from the U.S. Treasury and recently received a second round of funding for more than $16 million.
To qualify for rental assistance, renters must make 80% or less in Area Median Income, qualify for unemployment or have a reduction in income due to COVID-19, and/or demonstrate risks of homelessness or housing instability. When overseeing allocations, the United Way prioritizes residents who earn less than 50% of the Area Median Income.
The United Way is currently accepting applications for the second round of rental assistance. To apply, visit unitedwaysb.org/rent.