Dr. Henning Ansorg | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Here’s the bad news: Santa Barbara County faces a return to the more restrictive purple COVID tier because case numbers rose dramatically this week — 76 new cases today. The good news: the county’s health officer, Dr. Henning Ansorg, announced the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine could come as early as late December.

Who would be first to get the vaccine is under frequent discussion at the state and county levels, Ansorg said, four talks this week alone. First to receive the vaccine are likely to be health-care providers working with patients in vulnerable settings like hospitals, first responders, and elderly residents in care facilities because of their high mortality rates. The vaccine may be available to the rest of the population by spring or summer of next year, he said.

Ansorg did not disclose which vaccine the county might get, but U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced on Monday that it had a vaccine that proved more than 90 percent effective in its third phase of trials. Produced in collaboration with BioNTech, a German company with U.S. headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the BNT162b2 vaccine requires two doses; its third trial involved more than 43,000 people globally.

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The bad news was discussed by Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso. “I have to be honest. I am worried,” she said. Eleven counties in California have moved backward into more restrictive tiers, and surrounding counties Kern, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo were one week closer to the purple tier. This week’s new cases in Santa Barbara County — at a low of 32 and a high of 76 — put the county teetering on the edge of purple.

Four Halloween parties among students of Orcutt’s St. Joseph’s High School proved a “teachable moment” of how two reported cases could bloom to 20, closing the school. Do-Reynoso called it “just the tip of the iceberg,” and an answer to those who asked, “What’s the big deal?” about mask wearing and social distancing.

“Outbreaks can happen when there’s a gathering as small as a few people,” Do-Reynoso said they’d learned from their contact tracing conversations. “Every person in the county must double-down. Wear a mask, maintain distance, and stop gathering with people outside your household.” She reminded that the Health Officer’s Order for Santa Barbara County bans gatherings of any size.

Given the confluence of the vaccine announcement, Thanksgiving on the horizon, and pandemic fatigue, the bad news for health officials might be the public relief at a vaccine — albeit a half year away — influencing their actions tomorrow. Today, residents of the West Coast states were asked to please stay home by their three governors, said Supervisor Gregg Hart. If residents of Washington, Oregon, or California travel home from other parts of the country or other countries, they should self-quarantine for 14 days, the advisory states, such is the fear of the COVID-19 spikes occurring across the country and around the world.

Holiday traditions will need an adjustment to keep friends and family safe, Hart observed, and in business. The State Street Promenade had a new Thursday night market exclusively featuring local vendors. Women’s Economic Ventures was opening an online shop on November 17 that will run through December 13. It’s a small comfort compared to the inability to gather, but “This season can make or break our local businesses,” Hart said in a plea to support Santa Barbara businesses through the holidays.

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