Extension of mask mandate seen as likely
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, is encouraging vaccinated adults to get their COVID-19 booster shots in anticipation of the holidays.
And he told the News-Press Monday that he expects the county’s indoor mask mandate will likely have to be extended beyond its Dec. 5 expiration date. The mandate was previously extended when it expired in early November.
“We’re hovering around 10 cases per 100,000,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Now is not the time to stop wearing masks indoors.”
The county Public Health Department has said the indoor mask mandate can be lifted when the cases reach six cases per 100,000 and stay at that number for two weeks.
Dr. Ansorg said that at this point, fighting COVID-19 requires vaccinations, the indoor mask mandate and maintaining six feet from others in indoor public settings.
He stressed the importance of vaccinations and booster shots for those who got their Moderna and Pfizer vaccines at least six months ago or those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
Last week, the Food Drug and Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the booster shots for all vaccinated adults.
“To put it into perspective, it (the booster shot) doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work,” Dr. Ansorg said. “It seems to be necessary for it to be a three-shot series like tetanus or polio or hepatitis B. It appears to be the case for Pfizer and Moderna. For Johnson & Johnson, only a second dose is required, and it can be had at two months after the initial dose.”
When asked if the booster shots may become an annual necessity, Dr. Ansorg said, “That is unknown. Two years is not enough time to know how often the booster may be necessary. Honestly, there’s no way of knowing.
“So right now, the best protection is booster shots for everybody (all vaccinated adults),” he said.
The News-Press asked Dr. Ansorg why the vaccine hasn’t prevented breakthrough cases.
“The delta variant that became dominant in July across the whole globe is just so much more infectious,” he said. “The previous garden variety type (of COVID-19) was when one person infects two or three others. With this one, the infected person is able to infect an average of six to seven other people. It’s more than double as transmissible as the previous type of virus we were dealing with.
“Unfortunately, because of this ability of the delta variant to infect people so much more easily, breakthrough cases are happening,” he said. “However, the breakthrough cases are usually very mild, and the vaccine is highly effective in preventing hospitalizations.”
Dr. Ansorg said more than 80% of people hospitalized in Santa Barbara County for COVID-19 were not vaccinated. “The remaining 20% are elderly people with weak immune systems.”
When asked about vaccines for ages 5-11, Dr. Ansorg said the county is making progress.
“I think we have about 4,000 kids vaccinated so far, and there’s still a lot of interest,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We’re working with schools, pediatricians and pharmacies.
“We’re concentrating on areas where it’s traditionally harder for children to get care,” he said. “That’s more in North County than South County.”
On Monday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported that 65.6% of the county’s eligible 5-and-older population is vaccinated. The number in just Santa Barbara is higher: 73.3%.
“We have to shoot for 95% to get over this COVID crisis,” Dr. Ansorg said.