Health officer predicts change on March 23
March 23. If you own a restaurant, gym or store, mark it on your calendar.
That’s the date Santa Barbara County is expected to take a step closer to pre-pandemic life and return to the coveted red tier.
That would allow, among other things, the resumption of indoor dining, an expansion of customer capacity inside retail outlets, and the reopenings of indoor movie theaters, indoor museum exhibits, indoor gyms and secondary schools with limits on capacity. That all adds up to good news for a struggling economy and residents eager for a more normal world.
“The earliest we could get into the red tier is March 23,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, told the News-Press Wednesday. “Honestly, it’s quite likely we will reach the red tier that day.
“That means effective the following day (March 24), certain things can happen. For instance, there could be dining with very limited (25%) capacity indoors with ventilation,” Dr. Ansorg said.
“Retail capacity will increase in the red tier,” he continued. “You shouldn’t see lines in front of grocery stores anymore.
“Obviously you will still need to wear a mask when you go into a store,” Dr. Ansorg said.
The county’s COVID cases have fallen to 9.7 per 100,000, and state health officials said that’s good enough for the red tier if 2 million people are vaccinated across the state. The state is expected to reach that vaccination number by Friday.
In addition, Santa Barbara County has 3.7% positivity, which is the rate required for the less-severe orange tier, Dr. Ansorg said.
And Dr. Ansorg said the county has made strong progress in its vaccinations, resulting in a decrease of cases among seniors.
Dr. Ansorg said more than three-fourths of the county’s 75 and older population and one-fourth of the 65-74 age group have received COVID-19 vaccines. He added that 110,000 doses have been administered so far in the county.
Dr. Ansorg said the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines “are all fantastic.” He noted the only non-COVID-19 vaccine with the same efficacy is the measles shot.
The public health officer noted he’s a big fan of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, unlike the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, requires just one shot. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also can be stored in a regular refrigerator, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires storage in a special freezer at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).
Dr. Ansorg added that no allergic reactions have been seen with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “As a matter of fact, when someone has an allergic reaction to Pfizer or Moderna, we recommend they get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a second shot.”
Dr. Ansorg said he expects the eligibility for vaccines will open up to everyone in Santa Barbara County in April, but he noted the challenge of having enough doses. “If there isn’t enough vaccine, the fact that I’m eligible doesn’t mean I will get it tomorrow.”
He added he expects everyone will be able to get the vaccine by May.
“I think COVID has changed our lives in many ways, but it will definitely be more normal in the late summer,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We have kids in the elementary schools and will be able to have kids in the high schools and junior highs in the red tier. It’s a slow movement toward normalization.”
Dr. Ansorg said he believes new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reasonable. The CDC has stated that fully vaccinated people can get together indoors without masks and social distancing.
Dr. Ansorg pointed out another element in the new guidelines.
“You have grandparents who are fully vaccinated and have not seen their grandkids in a year,” he said. “(Under the CDC guidelines,) one other household not vaccinated can come and visit a fully vaccinated household without wearing a mask.”
To see the guidelines, go to cdc.gov.
Dr. Ansorg said he was scheduled to discuss the CDC guidelines with the state Department of Public Health late Wednesday afternoon.