Local health officials say recent cases have peaked
The light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is getting a bit brighter.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, Cottage Health infectious disease specialist, told the News-Press Friday that the nonprofit received a “reassuring signal in the last few days” according to its test positivity rate and the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19.
“The numbers seemed to have stopped accelerating and perhaps stabilizing, or perhaps downturning,” she said. “This tells us that the really accelerated surge related to Christmas and New Year’s may be stabilizing.”
In the County Public Health Department’s news conference Friday, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso confirmed that the county’s case rate and test positivity rate peaked Jan. 9 and have since decreased.
“This is really encouraging news; however, I do want to share that we are not out of the woods yet,” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said.
She noted that over the past three weeks, nearly three times as many people have died compared to the peak weeks over last summer. She said that because of how steep the winter peak was, “it will probably take a lot longer for the widespread transmission to stop.”
Also at the news conference on Friday, County Health Officer Henning Ansorg said that in the county, he is aware of two allergic reactions that required medical care following the vaccine. But both patients recovered quickly with the appropriate treatment.
Dr. Ansorg also announced that all 16 skilled nursing facilities in the county have been vaccinated as of Friday.
Cottage Health, meanwhile, announced that the Drive-Up COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital campus is now serving eligible health care workers and individuals ages 75 and older who live or work in Santa Barbara County.
Appointments are required and must be made in advance, and Cottage Health also plans to continue offering the vaccine clinics two days a week based on staffing and vaccine availability.
“I think it (the drive-up clinic) is a game changer,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “I think the volume and efficiency and marketing at Cottage that they created has been nothing short of amazing. Within just a couple of weeks, they put up a clinic that, in two days this week, is going to vaccinate over 1,500 of our community members.”
Individuals ages 75 and older are invited to sign up at cottagehealth.org/covid19 for notifications when future appointments open.
“I’m over the moon. I’m really ecstatic about this clinic, but also what it means for the community and our vaccine efforts going forward,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Joyce Lipman, the executive director of the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens, also expressed her excitement about the next age group beginning to receive vaccines.
“Seniors have been very anxious about getting the vaccine shots,” she told the News-Press. “We hear from seniors in our office every day the last couple weeks asking, ‘Where do I get my shot?’ and etc. I encourage seniors to be patient and respect that it’s going to take time for everybody to secure the vaccination and to stay safe in the interim and throughout until our community has achieved the immunity level that they’re looking for.”
Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden announced that he has set a goal to administer 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of the administration.
Dr. Fitzgibbons said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about this goal.
“I think the strategies outlined in the plan to facilitate those 100 million vaccine doses make a lot of sense to those of us in infectious diseases and Public Health,” she said. “We had a lot of success, from my perspective, with vaccine development and with the clinical trials last year, and that really brought us these phenomenal vaccines in a much quicker way than we’ve seen before.
“The stutter at this point is getting those vaccines manufactured and into the arms of our vulnerable public.”
County 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart told the News-Press that he’s “very pleased” that President Biden set this ambitious goal.
“Now is the time to have a bold and ambitious national response to the pandemic,” he said. “Here at the county, we are ready to get as many vaccines in local arms as fast as we can to protect the residents of Santa Barbara County.”
The new president also warned Americans that the pandemic will “get worse before it gets better,” and he predicted the COVID-19 death toll will increase from 400,000 to 500,000 by the end of next month.
“Unfortunately, I fear that the president is correct,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “We have record numbers of people this month in the hospital, and tragically, what we know is that within usually one to three weeks after the hospitalization surge, we see the effect on death counts.
“What those of us in infectious disease understand about the president’s comments is that we are deep in this pandemic, and we are very likely to see at least another 100,000 deaths in the coming months based simply on when we know deaths happen relative to surges and hospitalizations.”
She addressed the COVID-19 variants as well, saying she’s most concerned about the South African variant, 501Y.V2. Preliminary research suggests the variant can escape antibodies, according to national media reports.
“Even if we do find a variant in the U.S. that is unfortunately more infectious, it’s really important to remember that we’re not starting at square one again,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “We know so much more about this virus, about the vaccines, and we can modify vaccines as we need to.”
In addition, the lot of Moderna vaccine doses that were temporarily put on hold due to reported allergic reactions were approved for use again on Thursday. While Cottage Health did not receive any doses of this lot, Dr. Fitzgibbons said the news is reassuring, and the fact that the lot was put on hold at all is also reassuring.
“We have to remember as we hear in the future of little bumps and perhaps even more substantial bumps in the rollout process that it is exactly these halts and pauses that are making vaccines safe,” she said.