Public Health officials say further vaccine progress will lead to changes in the state’s COVID-19 tier system, prompting shifts that could launch Santa Barbara County into the red tier as soon as Friday.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county’s Public Health Department, briefed the County Board of Supervisors on the state’s vaccine equity metric goals Tuesday. The state’s goals seek to target COVID-19 vaccines at people living in 400 zip codes associated with the lowest bottom quartile of the state’s Healthy Places Index.
California’s more than 1,650 zip codes were divided into four quartiles based on 25 community characteristics such as housing, health care access, education and the economy, among others. According to the state’s Equitable Vaccine Administration plan, communities within the lowest quartile of the state’s HPI will receive a double allotment of the vaccines distributed.
The state’s plan aims to meet benchmark goals that correspond with revisions to tier criteria as the vaccine distribution expands. The first goal is to reach 2 million vaccine doses administered, and once this happens, the tier system will change.
When the goal is reached, the purple tier will adjust to a case rate of 10 per 100,000 and the red tier will adjust to four to 10 cases per 100,000. Currently, counties in the purple tier have a case rate of greater than seven per 100,000, and red tier counties have a case rate of four to seven cases per 100,000.
The state has already administered 1.875 million vaccine doses in the lowest HPI quartile, inching the state closer to a revision of the current tier system. If 2 million doses are reached this week, Santa Barbara County will be launched into the red tier very quickly based on the county’s current case rate of 9.7 per 100,000, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
“The day that the vaccine equity goal has been met — meaning the day that the 2 million level has been met — tier assignments will be revised to reflect the shift in the blueprint tier threshold and announced the following day,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said during the meeting.
As soon as the goal is met, the new tier metrics will be effective the next day. Given the state’s broad vaccine rollout, Dr. Do-Reynoso said “it is conceivable that by Friday or early next week, (Santa Barbara County) could be moved into the red.”
The state’s plan also aims to meet a second benchmark goal of 4 million vaccines allocated, which would expand the orange tier to a case rate of two to 5.9 cases per 100,000 and shift the yellow tier to less than two cases per 100,000. In this benchmark, the purple tier requirements would remain at greater than 10 cases per 100,000 and the red tier would shift to six to 10 cases per 100,000.
Dr. Do-Reynoso also updated the supervisors on the current COVID-19 metrics in Santa Barbara County during Tuesday’s meeting. According to Public Health data, active COVID-19 cases dropped by 40% in Santa Barbara County between Feb. 22 and March 8, but deaths increased by 7% in the past two weeks.
“Death often occurs two to eight weeks after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, so that’s why we’re seeing an upward trend,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Public Health data also indicates that the county’s current testing positivity rate is at 3.6% and hospitalizations decreased by 38% in the past two weeks. This week, the county received more than 12,500 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which includes doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Despite the ongoing vaccine progress in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Do-Reynoso told the board that testing is “more important now than ever” to continue to slow the spread of the virus.
“I think some in our community may think that testing is not important now that we have the vaccine available. However, I just want to underscore that vaccines still are in limited accessibility and it will take many months for us to vaccinate our entire county,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “So it remains critical that testing continues as a safety practice along with face covering and physical distancing.”
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced interim recommendations that said vaccinated individuals should be able to safely meet indoors with other vaccinated individuals without wearing masks or social distancing. This guidance is under consideration by the state and updated guidelines are awaiting release, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
In addition to a COVID-19 update, the board heard a second-quarter fiscal update on cannabis tax revenues from the County Executive Office. Officials reported that $2.6 million in tax revenue was collected from cannabis tax during the second quarter, indicating a 30% jump in tax revenue from the same period last year.
Supervisors also recognized this year’s award winners of the Women’s History Month Service Awards, given by the Commission for Women, during Tuesday’s meeting. The board adopted a resolution to declare March as Women’s History Month in Santa Barbara County.
Supervisors adjourned the meeting in honor of the recent death of Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, a volunteer chaplain for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, member of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol and assistant pastor at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Santa Barbara. The board reflected on Father Hedges’ contributions in Isla Vista, where he resided for more than 50 years and collaborated with local agencies addressing crisis, trauma and disaster.
“Father Jon consistently went toward the pain, the suffering and the confusion rather than shrinking from it,” Vice Chair and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said.