Santa Barbara County officials implored residents to flatten the COVID curve — as they had in March and April — in order to get businesses open again and school in session in the fall. “We did it before. We can do it again,” said Supervisor Gregg Hart, because the county needs to get out of the state’s monitoring restrictions — which it has been in for 32 days — before business can resume in sectors recently closed.
Reopening schools is a larger problem, although Governor Gavin Newsom solved it for Santa Barbara County when he ordered counties in monitoring status to keep schools closed. Ellen Barger with the County Education Office spoke at the county COVID press conference on Friday evening, stating that distance learning would be more rigorous than the experience in the spring, which was a crisis response. Required daily attendance, regular communications with students and parents, and daily interaction with teachers were all part of the planning that has gone on all summer.
Barger, too, emphasized that parents who needed to work or find child care, and their employers, could only rely on the schools to reopen safely if the entire community supported them.
“Dr. Robert Redfield said we could get this virus under control in one or two months if every American wore a mask,” Supervisor Hart reminded. “The time is now.” Redfield leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The head of the county’s Public Health Department, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, said that the county’s case rate was 10 times higher than the state’s acceptable rate of 25 per 100,000 people. That and the fact that the county’s positivity rate — or ratio of positive cases among those tested — was 9.6 percent, which exceeded the state threshold of 8 percent, were what put Santa Barbara County on the monitoring list and closed businesses and the upcoming school year. Among those numbers were the day’s totals: 137 new cases, 394 active cases, 81 people in the hospital, and 27 of them in the intensive care unit. On the bright side, 89 percent of the community’s cases had fully recovered.
Do-Reynoso iterated that the epidemiology team found that gatherings were a significant issue during interviews. “Twelve percent had reported attending a large gathering in the past 14 days without a mask,” she said, “including work, bars, grocery stores, gyms, lake gatherings local and out of the area with friends, the beach, barbecues, birthdays, and funerals.”
Enforcement actions had taken place, too, she noted. Since March 15, Public Health had heard 352 complaints from the public, Do-Reynoso said, each of which got a phone call at a minimum and a site visit in most cases. They resulted in four noticed site violations, one intent to suspend the permit, and one hearing. “They all resulted well,” she said. The state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control was also making visits when complaints were made of employees not wearing masks or wearing them improperly, businesses not enforcing physical distancing, or service indoors.
The county’s COVID dashboard was not always on a parallel track with the state’s, Do-Reynoso said, which she found frustrating. It resulted in conversations for several weeks with the state’s Department of Public Health in an attempt to get in sync. The best they could do for the moment, she said, was to note the discrepancy at the dashboard.
As for the new mandate from the federal government that COVID information now be reported to Health and Human Services instead of the Centers for Disease Control, Do-Reynoso was already concerned about the existing lag time from the state, which receives its information from the feds. “We get hospital data from the California Department of Public Health,” she said, “and hospital data is critical to us.”
“The reporting change has more to do with where hospitals will send their daily information,” Dr. Douglas Metz of County Public Health told the Independent earlier in the day, and he, too, worried the change could affect the speed with which the county received data. For the moment, however, the county continues to report to the California Department of Public Health. Steve Popkin, who runs Lompoc Valley Medical Center, indicated that the “greatest source of usable information is at the county level” as far as the hospital’s ability to fight the virus.
“The million-dollar question, of course, isn’t related to input, but is related to what data we are going to get on the back end. What data will we as a country see?” observed Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious-disease specialist at Cottage Health who spoke at today’s press conference. “We’re told it will be an improvement,” she noted, “and it’s very premature to make assumptions on what data we’ll be getting on the back end.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons emphasized, as had the other speakers, that the time had come to flatten the curve again. COVID-19 was looking more like the the Nine Trails or an ultra-marathon, said Fitzgibbons, who is a runner.
She compared COVID-19 to the measles, which results in antibodies that shield the person from a second bout. But some people were failing to make the natural antibodies that fought COVID-19, and others were losing theirs after a couple of months. “That leaves people vulnerable again,” Fitzgibbons noted, “and herd immunity may be very difficult to achieve.
“The infection will be with us for a very long time,” Dr. Fitzgibbons observed. “Masks are our friends here.”
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