Santa Barbara County public health director talks about ‘really good news’
The Public Health Department reported a 45% decrease in active COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks across Santa Barbara County, an encouraging stat that places the county at an adjusted case rate of 13 per 100,000.
This drop in COVID-19 cases came accompanied by a 50% decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations between Feb. 15 and March 1, according to data from the Public Health Department. During this time, deaths increased by 17%, despite a low positivity rate of 5.1% per 100,000.
The 45% decline in cases was welcomed by officials.
“This is really good news,” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county’s Public Health Department, said Tuesday during the county Board of Supervisors meeting. “This is what we need to see in regards to the transmission of COVID-19 in our community.”
The health department has expanded its vaccine efforts in recent weeks as more doses became available for distribution, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Since January, the county’s allocation of vaccines has increased 21% as greater numbers of the Pfizer, Moderna and the emergency-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines are being produced and distributed.
The state is expecting to receive 380,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for distribution. Though the specific number of Johnson & Johnson doses that will be allocated to Santa Barbara County is still unknown, Public Health officials are anxiously awaiting this new single-dose vaccine that can be stored in a regular refrigerator and offers quicker protection.
“This is really really exciting news that we have this third option,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “We will await guidance from CDPH with regards to the population to be served. But nonetheless, we are incredibly excited at this new option for this convenient, one-dose, easy-to-store, quick acting vaccine for our providers as well as our community.”
The county recently expanded its vaccination efforts to include people in the 65-74 age group, as well as emergency service workers, food and agriculture workers, and education and child care workers within its Phase 1B vaccine distribution. Individuals in the Phase 1A group, which includes those over 75 and older and healthcare workers, are still eligible to receive a vaccine.
To help agricultural workers receive their vaccine, the county hosted a Farmworker Vaccination Pilot Sunday at Santa Maria Health Center. The pilot program targeted farmworkers in the county, many of whom are bilingual or trilingual and may have limited access to online resources related to vaccine eligibility and sign-ups.
On Sunday, 496 vaccines were distributed through this pilot program. Thirty staff members from partner agencies — CAUSE, MICOP, Herenia Indigena, the Agriculture Commission and the Growers/Shippers Association — administered vaccines. And five translators were on hand to help communicate.
“I walked through the lines and got an opportunity to speak with many of the community members, and the overall sense was really happiness and excitement and relief at being able to receive the vaccination in a very safe and very cultural and linguistically appropriate manner,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “It was a roaring success from my standpoint and from what I’m hearing from community members and community partners.”
During the public comment period of the supervisors’ meeting, various community members echoed this sentiment, thanking the county for prioritizing farmworkers in the distribution process.
“When most Americans worked from home, farmworkers had to and still are having to risk their lives and their loved ones’ lives when they went to work every day,” Jennifer Lopez, a college student in Santa Maria, said. “We know how important this vaccine is for the farmworking community, especially when there is data that supports the disparity of COVID infections among the farm working and immigrant community. Farmworkers are essential to this community, and having them get the vaccine was the right call to make.”
Zuleman Aleman, a CAUSE community worker who assisted with the vaccine distribution Sunday, called the pilot program “an event that many in (the) community dreamed of.” Ms. Aleman cited higher case COVID-19 rates among agricultural workers as a result of environmental factors, crowded housing and the need for carpooling.
“With higher rates of crowded conditions, the consequences have been devastating,” Ms. Aleman said. “Since day one of this pandemic, many people, including myself, have had the privilege to move our lives online. However, you can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.”
Leo Ortega, a member of the Santa Maria community, expressed appreciation and relief that his family members were able to receive their vaccines through the pilot program over the weekend. His parents are strawberry pickers in the Santa Maria fields and were at risk of contracting the disease as strawberry season is approaching.
“If one farm worker was to get exposed to COVID-19, it could infect the whole crew,” Mr. Ortega said. “And not just the crew, but their families back home. So it’s important to look out for our farmworkers, especially if you want them to pick your fruits and vegetables.”
As vaccine distribution continues this week, the state has mandated a 70/30 vaccination plan, which will allocate 70% of vaccines to people over the age of 65 and 30% of vaccines to food and agriculture workers, education and childcare workers, and emergency service workers.
For more information on the county’s vaccination efforts and to check your eligibility, visit publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.