Heading into Labor Day Weekend, health officials at the local and federal level are urging caution to avoid an accelerated COVID-19 case surge following the holiday.
Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is recommending that unvaccinated people not travel during the holiday given the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
The CDC director’s recommendation was underscored by White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients, who said Tuesday that “it’s critical that being vaccinated is part of (a) pre-holiday checklist.”
For those who are not vaccinated and choose to travel anyway, the CDC recommends getting tested one to three days before traveling, getting tested three to five days after traveling and self-quarantining for seven days. The agency also recommends wearing a mask during travel for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“People who are fully vaccinated, and who are wearing masks, can travel,” Ms. Walensky said Tuesday during a White House COVID-19 briefing. “Although, given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling.”
Locally, health officials are promoting similar precautions ahead of the holiday weekend. Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, the chair of the infectious disease division at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, said if people are gathering, it’s best to keep groups small and celebrate outdoors.
“I think this (weekend) is another opportunity to remember that we can gather with an ideally smaller number of people outdoors in a relatively safe way, including without masks on,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. “If however, we are spending time in bigger gatherings and sharing the same air and same breath in close quarters — even outdoors through this weekend — I think it would be very wise to wear a mask.”
“And that recommendation would be the same for people who are unvaccinated or vaccinated, though we should remember that unvaccinated people, if they do get infected, remain very vulnerable to severe disease and hospitalization,” she added.
The holiday weekend comes as the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has tracked an uptick in cases in recent days. Between Wednesday and Friday, the county reported more than 400 new cases of COVID-19.
Prior to this week’s uptick, however, the county saw cases stabilize in the past week, largely due to the community taking precautions and following mask guidelines, Dr. Fitzgibbons said. She commended the community for doing a “tremendous job” of observing the mask mandates, avoiding crowds and staying at home when feeling ill, all of which contributed to calmer case rates last week.
This week, however, marks the two-week point since many area schools went back to in-person learning, and Dr. Fitzgibbons said the uptick in recent days can likely be attributed to back-to-school season and all it entails — classroom learning, school sports and more interactions between households.
With this in mind, Dr. Fitzgibbons said the community has proven that it can slow the spread of the disease in the past and should take the proper safety precautions this holiday weekend to prevent another surge.
“While we’ve shown that we have the ability and clear success with stopping delta, unfortunately, in these last couple of days, I think we’re seeing some signal that it is clearly still with us and has continued to spread in our community,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
“It may be starting to accelerate again, and this is of course with the backdrop of Labor Day Weekend, where our community is going to gather, where our community is going to have out of town visitors, and where, unfortunately, (our community is) vulnerable to further acceleration in what we are already seeing at the end of this week.”
On Friday, the Public Health Department reported 121 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. The individuals who died were both above age 70 and one had underlying health conditions. One individual resided in Lompoc and the other lived in Santa Maria.
Officials reported 35 new cases in Santa Maria, 21 in Lompoc and the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village, 16 in Orcutt and 14 in Santa Barbara and the unincorporated area of Mission Canyon. Ten new cases were also reported in Goleta, six were reported in the unincorporated Goleta Valley and Gaviota and four were reported in the north county unincorporated areas and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Elsewhere, officials reported three cases in Isla Vista and two cases in the south coast unincorporated areas, which includes the City of Carpinteria. Six cases were pending on Friday.
The new cases brought the county’s active case total to 669 infections. Santa Maria had the most active infections Friday with 214 cases, followed by Santa Barbara with 117 and Lompoc with 106.
On Friday, 78 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and 19 were recovering in the ICU.
According to the county’s latest vaccination data, 74.3% of the county’s eligible 12 and older population has received at least one vaccine dose, and 65.5% of that population is fully vaccinated. Of the entire county population, 55.4% of people are fully vaccinated and 62.9% have received at least one dose.