The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard both positive and negative news Tuesday about COVID-19 statistics.
Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 8, Santa Barbara County saw a 51% decrease in active cases, bringing current totals to 1,028 active cases down from 2,085. However, deaths increased by 26% in the past two weeks, going from 267 to 337.
“Unfortunately, so far we have lost more community members (to COVID-19) in 2021 than in all of 2020,” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department, said during the board’s meeting.
Despite an upward trend in deaths, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the downward trend in cases and the current testing positivity rate (10.2%) is “very encouraging.” Though progress has been made, Dr. Do-Reynoso said there is still work to be done to lower case totals and reduce the number of deaths.
“What’s noteworthy is that Santa Barbara (County) ranks the eighth highest for the adjusted case rate and the 13th highest for tested positivity despite being the 19th most populous county in California,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “So we still have work to do.”
During the meeting, supervisors also heard an update on the county’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The county has currently given 61,000 doses of the vaccine to people over the age of 75 and frontline health care workers. Dr. Do-Reynoso said both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses over 20 days apart to be effective, and current efforts are focused on fully vaccinating everyone who has received the first dose.
Dr. Do-Reynoso acknowledged the recent concerns of community members over the number of vaccine doses Santa Barbara County receives weekly. Currently, Santa Barbara County receives 6,000 vaccine doses for distribution each week.
Though the vaccine trickle is slow going, Dr. Do-Reynoso made clear that the county is receiving its fair share for the time being. Though other areas are moving on to vaccinating 65 plus, Dr. Do-Reynoso said Santa Barbara County will finish vaccinating the 75-plus age group before moving on to the next tier. As of Tuesday, 64.2% of the county’s residents over the age of 75 have been vaccinated.
“We can confidently say that we are getting our fair share of the vaccine,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “I think this is a tough space to be in, which every county across the nation is facing because we have a limited number of vaccines available.”
Supervisors during the meeting discussed the future of the vaccine rollout, stressing the role the federal government plays in getting vaccines sent out across the country.
“(Vaccine) supply originates as a federal issue,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said. “It’s not like the state of California or the county of Santa Barbara can go to these companies to buy more vaccines. These companies offered sovereign governments an opportunity to pre-order, and the U.S. gave them a pre-order number. A lot of us wonder why it was as low as it was but in defense of the federal response, it was much higher than the rest of the world.”
During the meeting, Public Health officials and supervisors discussed plans for reopening schools in the coming weeks. According to recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elementary students and staff should be able to return to school safely without receiving a vaccine if they follow protocols like wearing masks and enforcing physical distancing.
The board voted unanimously to approve the Public Health Department’s request to send a letter to the California Department of Public Health on behalf of the Santa Barbara Unified School District requesting that the school reopen in seven days if they meet threshold requirements.
The board’s meeting also covered a number of other county issues during the meeting, including an appeal from the Decker Greenhouse Project and an operational performance review on the County Sheriffs’ Office from KPMG.
A number of public commenters also participated in the meeting, including Andy Caldwell, the COLAB executive director.
Mr. Caldwell, a Nipomo resident and a News-Press columnist, voiced concerns about the consultants appointed to the county’s redistricting ordinance and called for the supervisors to remove Fred Woocher from the commission. Mr. Caldwell said Mr. Woocher has a conflict of interest.