At long last, Santa Barbara County has officially moved into the red tier, marking a transition that will ease restrictions for businesses and reopen movie theaters and museums at a limited capacity.
State officials announced that the county met the threshold to move into the red tier around noon Tuesday, and the updated red tier restrictions will go into effect today.
In the red tier, retail storefronts and shopping centers can open at 50% capacity indoors, and restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums and museums can open at 25% capacity indoors. In addition, red tier restrictions allow gyms to open at 10% capacity indoors.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the director of the county’s Public Health Department, relayed this news to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday in addition to providing updated data on the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also provided supervisors with an update on vaccine distribution in the county, highlighting that 24% of the county’s vaccine allotment this week will be distributed in the agriculture sector.
The COVID vaccine has been a hot-button topic in recent days after the Biden administration announced ambitious plans last week to make the vaccine available to all people by May 1. During Tuesday’s meeting, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams voiced skepticism at this goal.
“We have nearly 450,000 people in the county. If only 85% of those folks want to get vaccinated … that still means that we have, after the 120,000 that have already been administered, another 600,000 to 645,000 vaccines that need to be administered,” Mr. Williams said. “If the current amount (of vaccine) we’re getting doubled, it would still take 27 weeks.”
In the past two weeks, active cases decreased by 42% in the county, and testing positivity dropped to 3.3%. The county’s current adjusted case rate is 7.7 per 100,000, which securely places the county in the red tier of the state’s framework.
Dr. Do-Reynoso called these statistics “good news,” but warned that further vigilance from the community is needed to keep infections down.
“We definitely can celebrate experiencing these downward trends … but I really want to stress we have to stay vigilant collectively as a county so that we can continue to see a decline in case rates and other metrics,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said during the meeting. “Given that spring break is just around the corner, given that variants are circling around the state and our community, we need to stay vigilant and continue to practice our masking, our social distancing, as well as our gathering.”
To qualify for the red tier, counties are required to stay under a case rate of 10 per 100,000, stay under 8% testing positivity in the entire county and remain under 8.1% testing positivity for the health equity quartile.
To move tiers, counties must meet the criteria for three straight weeks. Therefore, to move into the next lowest tier, the orange tier, Santa Barbara County must sustain a case rate of 3.9 per 100,000, stay under 4.9% testing positivity in the entire county and under 5.3% testing positivity in the health equity quartile for three weeks. A quartile is a state classification of communities.
The shift in tier system combined with expanded vaccine allocation will lead to greater ease in restrictions in the weeks to come. According to the state, counties in the red tier will qualify for a limited reopening of live outdoor events April 1. These upcoming regulations will limit attendance to a maximum of 20% capacity for live outdoor events and require advanced reservations.
In addition, the state will allow amusement/theme parks to reopen at 15% capacity for counties in the red tier as of April 1. Summer camps could also make a comeback this summer for counties that remain in the red, orange or yellow tiers.
With a shift in tiers signaling fewer restrictions and more reopenings for the foreseeable future, health officials are urging the public to continue following COVID-19 guidelines to stay on track for a steady ease in restrictions.
“Even though we are able to open up for more opportunities for entertainment and business and we are all glad about that, we have to be very very diligent in order to avoid something that is happening in Europe,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “They are experiencing exponential growth again and they are approaching their third wave. The only way to not have that happen to us is … we need to wear our masks in public, we need to still social distance, and that is absolutely important for the coming weeks in order to prevent another surge.”
The state also gave Ventura County the green light to move into the red tier on Tuesday.