Santa Barbara County Public Health officials reported Tuesday that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are decreasing in the region following an uptick in case rates associated with the highly transmissible delta variant.
Over the last two weeks, the county’s case rate has decreased by about 35% and now hovers around 16 cases per 100,000, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
According to the county’s metrics, hospitalizations were down from a two-week average of 61 people hospitalized to 45 people hospitalized on Monday. In addition, new daily cases were down from a two-week average of 105 cases per day to 76 cases on Monday.
While the latest trends indicate that case rates are declining in the region, Dr. Do-Reynoso told supervisors that the Public Health Department is continuing to expand its testing capacity by deploying a new testing bus next Monday at Direct Relief in Goleta. The bus has the ability to offer 168 tests per day and will be operating from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments will be available at the Public Health Department’s website at publichealthsbc.org/testing.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Do-Reynoso also emphasized the importance of getting the flu vaccine this season as the county continues to combat challenges associated with COVID-19. Flu season officially begins this month, though activity typically peaks between December and February, the public health director said. It’s for this reason that the department is encouraging people to get their flu shot early this year to prevent severe illness and hospitalization.
“Flu vaccination will be very important because we still are in a pandemic,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said Tuesday. “Getting the flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting our health and our family’s health.”
She added that the county had a very “unique” flu season last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, such as stay-at-home orders, masking and social distancing, which kept flu cases low. But now that most people have resumed some sense of normalcy and operate under fewer restrictions, Dr. Do-Reynoso said it’s important to take proper precautions to avoid an overwhelming flu season.
In addition to the update from the Public Health Department, Supervisors received a brief presentation from the county’s Human Resources Department about the state of the county’s testing or vaccination requirement for county employees.
The board voted to instate a vaccine or testing requirement for all county employees during their regular meeting Aug. 31. Under the requirement, all county employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or undergo weekly testing.
As of Monday, about 72% of county employees are fully vaccinated and verified, and about 28% are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, according to HR Director Maria Elena De Guevara. She told supervisors Tuesday that these numbers will likely shift before the end of the month, as some employees included in the 28% are either awaiting a second shot or awaiting fully vaccinated status (which occurs two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose regimen).
The HR director presented a few details about the mandate, explaining how it will be executed across the county.
Ms. Guevara explained that testing locations for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees are still under consideration, as the department plans to set up testing sites where it will serve the most workers. Medical assistants will oversee testing at each location and ensure that the tests are safely delivered to the testing lab.
Ms. Guevara also told the board that no medical or religious exemptions will apply to the county’s vaccine or testing requirement. While other state mandates allow workers to opt-out of the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, Santa Barbara County employees have the option to opt-out of the vaccine and instead take a weekly test, meaning an exemption is not necessary, according to Ms. Guevara.