The indoor mask mandate will end when COVID-19 cases fall to six per 100,000 people in Santa Barbara County and remain there for at least two weeks.
That’s according to Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the Santa Barbara County public health director. She presented an update Tuesday to the County Board of Supervisors.
But during the meeting at the County Administration Building, Supervisor Steve Lavagino had questions about the math and how the county could ever reach the number needed to lift the mask mandate.
He started his questions by asking about the reason for the six per 100,000 number.
Speaking to the board by Zoom, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso explained the figure would show “cases are decreasing and transmission in our community is lessening. That’s particularly important with winter holidays coming up.”
Supervisor Lavagino responded by noting that vaccination rates should be a factor.
“It seems like that if we continue to climb in the percentage of vaccinations, the case rates take on less of an importance,” he said.
According to the Public Health Department’s website, 71.4% of the eligible 12-and-older population in Santa Barbara County is fully vaccinated. For the city of Santa Barbara, the number is 78.9%.
Dr. Do-Reynoso told Supervisor Lavagino she would present a more detailed explanation at a future Board of Supervisors meeting.
At that point, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, noted that when the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11 is approved, the county’s eligible population will rise 10% and the vaccination rate for that population will fall 10%.
“The case rate has proven to be the easiest indication” of when to lift a mask mandate, said Dr. Ansorg, also speaking by Zoom. “Besides the case rate, we’re looking at hospitalizations, variants that are circulating. We’re looking at trends.
“Every county in California is doing the same thing,” he said, adding, “The higher the vaccination rate is, the more prudent it would be to lift the indoor masking mandate.”
Supervisor Lavagino asked Dr. Ansorg, “Do we ever lump in those who may not have been vaccinated but may have had the disease, so they may have built up immunity?”
Dr. Ansorg replied, “We are. We can only use estimates there. Everyone who’s been vaccinated is documented electronically. We have an exact number. We do not have an exact number of persons who have recovered from COVID infections.”
Dr. Ansorg noted that 95% of the state’s population remains under an indoor mask mandate. He said the only county to lift its mandate has been Marin County.
And looking at his computer, Supervisor Gregg Hart pointed out, “Marin County’s vaccination rates were astonishing. In Marin County, of the total population, 87% had one dose and 81% did the series. Of the eligible population, 98% received one dose and 94%, the series. It’s a very high vaccination rate.”
But pointing to the rate of vaccinations in Santa Barbara County, Supervisor Lavagino said it’s unlikely that the rate will increase significantly.
“You’re at the point that you’ve vaccinated almost everyone,” he said. “At some point, you can only get so many people vaccinated. Even Marin County can’t get everyone vaccinated.”
He also noted Marin County’s case rate is at six per 100,000, the minimum number for lifting the mask mandate.
“I don’t know how we’ll get there,” Supervisor Lavagino said.
He questioned how Santa Barbara County will reach the right numbers with the eligible population for vaccines growing with the addition of ages 5-11.
“Are we talking another year with masks, two years with masks?” he asked.
Then Bob Nelson, chair of the Board of Supervisors, noted, “The disease is getting close to being manageable. But it seems herd immunity is off the table.”
He said the county’s numbers have become “significantly lower.”
Last week, Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press he didn’t know when the county would reach the point when the mask mandate would end.
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, public commentators accused the county of discrimination with its mask policy.
One person, who noted he had a medical exemption from the mask mandate, said he, like many others, had been denied access to grocery stores, taxis, boats, buses and government buildings. “Twenty months later, we still can’t walk into a grocery store or board a county bus without being denied. It’s discrimination. It’s not fair.”