In Santa Barbara County, COVID-19 cases are occuring 3.7 times more among unvaccinated people compared to vaccinated individuals, according to data presented by the county’s Public Health Department on Tuesday.
The Public Health Department provided the Board of Supervisors with an update on the latest information available about the state of COVID-19 in the county during the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday.
Much of Tuesday’s conversation centered around the importance of vaccines amid rising case rates and an uptick in hospitalizations across the county. The vast majority of cases and hospitalizations being reported across the county are occurring among the unvaccinated, according to Public Health data. In May and June, 89% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to data presented Tuesday.
More recent data from earlier this month shows that cases are circulating rapidly among unvaccinated populations as well. According to data from Aug. 6, the case rate among the unvaccinated was 25.4 per 100,000 — a rate that is much higher than the case rate among the vaccinated, which sits around 6.9 per 100,000.
This rise in cases has led to an increase in hospitalizations over the past month. As of Monday, 64.5% of hospital beds were in use and 77.6% of ICU beds were in use across the county. This is very close to the “red zone” for both metrics, which is when less than 35% of hospital beds are available and less than 20% of ICU beds available.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director, said there are about 142,000 eligible residents ages 12 and older who have not yet received the vaccine. The health director, alongside medical experts present at Tuesday’s meeting, pleaded with those eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible to slow the spread of cases.
“Expanding vaccination in our community is the best protection that we have against what’s ahead… I really encourage anyone who is unvaccinated to please, please do whatever you can to find the information that you trust to inform your decision and help our whole community, and you and your family get better protected,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, the chair of the infectious disease division at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, said Tuesday.
During Tuesday’s presentation, Dr. Henning Ansorg also briefed the board on the spread of the delta variant in the county, informing supervisors about the rise of the variant’s prevalence in the county this summer.
According to Dr. Ansorg, 50% of test samples sequenced in June were the delta variant. In July, more than 95% of test samples were the delta variant, signifying a significant jump in just a matter of weeks.
Given the spread of the delta variant, Dr. Ansorg, Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Chuck Merrill, the chief medical officer at Marian Regional Medical Center, said masking in addition to vaccines is necessary to slow the surge.
“Indoors, where the virus is more transmissible, we want to promote masking for everyone,” Dr. Merrill told supervisors on Tuesday.
The physicians added that given the rise of pediatric COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide, masking is important to protect a population of children who are still ineligible for a vaccine.
Following the presentations from medical professionals, Supervisors weighed in to encourage vaccination across the county. Das Williams, the first district supervisor, told the board that his sister currently has COVID-19 and is on a respirator in another country after not being able to receive the vaccine due to shortages. He said his family in other countries does not understand why people who are eligible to receive the vaccine in the U.S. refuse to do so when many around the world are suffering from vaccine shortages.
“(My family) scratches their head at why when in India and Africa people are dying in large numbers that relatively healthy people are unwilling to get vaccinated (in the U.S.),” Mr. Williams said. “And I totally understand if you had a severe reaction to your first vaccine or if you have a health condition, I understand that. But at this point, there is sufficient danger of further mutations, a sufficient danger presented by the delta variant that we should really question if we are doing the responsible thing if people, who are otherwise healthy and able to do so, are unwilling to get vaccinated.”
Board Chair Bob Nelson echoed support for the vaccine in his comments Tuesday, noting that there is sufficient evidence that the vaccines are working to prevent severe infection and death. He added, however, that he questions the county’s current masking mandate, voicing concern that it could prevent hesitant individuals from getting their shot.
“I have heard from my constituents, I have heard from my community —this again is the community that needs to be reached the most —that the mask mandate has made many of them decide that they don’t’ want to go get a vaccine because they said ‘what’s the point, we’re going to have (mask) anyway,” Mr. Nelson said.
“In a vacuum, (the mandate) makes sense, but when you have a large population in our county that is still hesitant or still resistant to getting the vaccine, I think it sends the wrong message,” he added.
During the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting, the board heard a number of questions and concerns from members of the community pertaining to vaccines and masking. In response to questions raised, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the Public Health Department is looking to update the Frequently Asked Question tab on their website to provide answers. To view the FAQ page, visit publichealthsbc.org/faqs.