Parents of elementary-aged kids saw a glimmer of hope Tuesday morning when Santa Barbara County Public Health officials announced that waivers to reopen K-6 schools will be available by the end of the week.
Generally, the only chance for schools to reopen in person is if the entire county remains off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days or more — Santa Barbara has remained on it for more than 60 days. However, transmission rates have dropped enough in recent weeks that some county elementary schools may apply for and receive the state’s okay to reopen with additional safety protocols, though ultimately it is the state’s decision.
District superintendents would need to fill out the waiver, show there was consultation with parents and teachers and other stakeholders, publish a comprehensive reopening plan online, and then Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg can take the waiver to the state public health officer to discuss the plan and either approve it or deny it.
Santa Maria, the county’s largest COVID-19 hotspot, has seen a 41 percent decrease in new cases over the past two weeks, according to Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso. She shared several more statistics that fed into the county’s eligibility for school waivers, like the 25 percent decrease in new Santa Barbara cases over the same time period as well as the 38 percent decrease in Lompoc cases. But it isn’t time to celebrate quite yet.
Cases in Isla Vista exploded in recent weeks, and young people across the state and in the county are contracting the virus at higher rates. Do-Reynoso said there has been a 225 percent increase in Isla Vista cases over the past two weeks, which she attributed to college students moving back into dense housing environments and holding gatherings. The rest of Goleta has seen an 18 percent increase.
“I’m excited to hear about the news in Santa Maria; however, what keeps me up at night is the conditions in Isla Vista, where we have UCSB, City College, and other institutions that are having remote learning and saying, ‘Come enjoy the Isla Vista life,’” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann. “We need an all-hands-on-deck effort in Isla Vista, and I don’t think we have it yet.”
Dr. Henning Ansorg, Public Health’s chief medical officer, attributed the reduction in cases in other areas to community members following protocols like wearing masks and social distancing. Both he and Do-Reynoso said Public Health will wage a health campaign in Isla Vista in the same way that was done in Santa Maria, and it will soon reflect in the data in later weeks. Currently, 66 percent of the county’s cases are people aged 18-49.
Gregg Hart, 2nd District supervisor, called the progress a “moment to pay attention,” emphasizing that if people stop following protocols because of the new data the virus will come back. Fourth District Peter Adam viewed the data differently, stating that he believed the cases are declining because the community has begun to form “herd immunity,” so many individuals possess COVID-19 antibodies, making it less likely that the disease will be transmitted. Public Health did not share this viewpoint.
At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor. Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.