Santa Barbara County unlikely to change mask policies
Though Los Angeles County is now recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors, masking guidance in Santa Barbara County is likely to remain the same, local health officials say.
LA County’s shifting mask guidance came Monday after the county’s Public Health Department reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant. While health officials did not institute a new mandate, officials are highly recommending that all people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The Delta strain, which originally surfaced in India, has become the dominant variant circulating in the United States in recent weeks. Health officials report that the Delta variant is potentially twice as infectious as other strains of the virus and poses a risk to the nation’s unvaccinated population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccines widely available in the United States offer adequate protection against the new variant. Currently, those who are fully vaccinated have protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death associated with the Delta variant.
Despite the masking updates in LA County, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department will not be making any updates to its masking guidance at the current time.
“Santa Barbara County does not currently have active Delta variant cases,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, said in a statement to the News-Press. “There is no anticipated change in masking guidance at this time.”
Throughout the pandemic, Santa Barbara County has consistently lagged a few weeks behind Los Angeles County in terms of outbreaks and variant trends, according to Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist with Cottage Health. With this in mind, Dr. Fitzgibbons said the Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain in the county in the weeks to come.
“The good news this week is that our case rates remain quite low and we don’t yet have a big increase in case rates or in Delta variant prevalence,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. “But unfortunately, we know it is coming. We know that the Delta variant is very, very transmissible, very infectious and has already really taken over as the world’s most prevalent variant.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons said she remains concerned for the county’s unvaccinated population, particularly children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. While summer camps are making a return and life is looking more normal for children, Dr. Fitzgibbons said it’s important to continue to follow the masking guidance, particularly for unvaccinated folks.
In the coming weeks, Dr. Fitzgibbons said it is likely that the Delta strain will become much more prevalent across the county.
“My best guess from an infectious disease perspective is that the Delta variant over the coming weeks will take over as the most common cause of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “It will (likely) disproportionately affect unvaccinated people as it has done throughout the world already and our case rates may unfortunately suffer.”
She added, “Now is the time for anyone who is unvaccinated and eligible to take that first step towards getting fully vaccinated.”
While the Delta variant has not been extensively reported in Santa Barbara County yet, Dr. Marjorie Newman, the medical director for Sansum Clinic, said the variant is likely present but has not been sequenced yet. With more people roaming the county maskless since June 15, Dr. Newman said it’s likely the county will see “pockets of outbreaks” in the county as the Delta variant becomes more prevalent among unvaccinated people.
“I do think people still should be cautious,” Dr. Newman told the News-Press. “I’m fully vaccinated, but I will be hesitant to be in indoor settings without a mask at this point.”
Dr. Newman noted that she’s seen an uptick in the county’s case count recently, which she said is likely coming as a result of more unvaccinated people ditching their masks in public settings.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death. The individual who died lived in Santa Barbara, was over 70 years of age and had no underlying health conditions.
Four new cases were reported in Lompoc and the communities of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village, and two new cases were reported in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. Orcutt and Goleta reported one new infection, and two cases were pending.
As of Tuesday, 58.4% of the county’s eligible 12 and older population was fully vaccinated, equating to about 49.5% of the entire population.