Santa Barbara County is nearing the light at the end of the purple tunnel.
If the county can maintain its progress with decreasing COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations, it can move from the state’s most restrictive tier (purple) to the next, less-restrictive tier (red) by the end of the month. Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso reported at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting that the county’s COVID-19 metrics have been following the state trends the past two weeks, meaning they’re improving.
She said that county hospitalization rates decreased by 44 percent; medical surge rates decreased by 30 percent; and intensive care unit rates decreased by 71 percent. The past week, the county’s metrics have been in the less-restrictive red and orange zones. The county must remain in the red or better zones for 14 consecutive days to officially move into the red zone — making September 29 the magic date.
“Well, I think today is a really significant day,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “We got our first red report card from the state of California, and that is a very big deal.”
Once the county crosses into the red threshold, schools may reopen if the county can maintain another 14 days of its “red report card.” Some business sectors may get restrictions lifted immediately after the county moves into the red tier, like movie theaters, gyms, restaurants (indoors), personal care services, and places of worship with limited indoor capacity.
“I agree with the chair [Hart] that this is monumental and really important, but I guess my feeling is let’s not blow it,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said. “We need to continue a level of vigilance, both we as a county and the public, to ensure this positive trend continues.”
Williams suggested that once the county is in the red, the public health department should create a timeline to stagger the business reopenings in order to see if a specific sector is associated with a negative trend.
The county currently has an adjusted case rate of 6.7, which just fits inside the red metric requirement — between 4.0 and 7.0 positive cases per 100,000 residents as a seven-day average with a seven-day lag period. The county also has a testing positivity rate of 4.3 percent, which is in the orange tier that requires a positivity rate between 2 and 4.9 percent.
If the county does have to go back to purple restrictions after reopening in the red tier, businesses will have to reverse operations back to the purple-tier level of restrictions. However, once schools reopen, they do not have to close again, regardless of whether or not the county continues to progress or goes backward. If trends start to reverse higher, any schools already open in person will increase testing and other protocols, but they will remain open.
Elementary schools can still apply for waivers to reopen while waiting for the county to make it into the red zone and remain there for a few weeks. So far, 20 schools/districts have been granted waivers to reopen in person. Nearly all of the schools so far are private schools, with Montecito Union and Cold Spring District as the only two public schools that have been granted waivers.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District grappled with the possibility of reopening at the board meeting Tuesday after the Supervisors met. The school board appeared to not want to reopen right away, even if the state and county say it’s okay to do so. The issue will likely be taken up at the next meeting for a final decision.
As of Tuesday, there were 141 active COVID cases in the county out of the 8,952 cases that have been identified since March, with 23 hospitalized and five in intensive care units. There were 25 new cases on Tuesday when Do-Reynoso gave the report, and 111 people have died from the virus overall.
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