Santa Barbara County May Get COVID Vaccines in Time for Statewide Surge

Vaccine Coming When County Cases Are On the Rise

Credit: Courtesy of Pfizer

Pfizer and Moderna are expected to receive FDA emergency-use approval for their vaccines in the coming weeks — right in the nick of time. The latest wave of the virus seems to be taking over the state, which now has 52 counties, including Santa Barbara, in the state’s most restrictive tier: purple.

There are two initial phases of vaccine rollout, which are subject to change depending on availability. The first phase of vaccines are only for health-care workers and first responders and should roll out in mid- to late December. In Santa Barbara County, that’s about 20,000 health-care workers and 2,000 first responders. 

The second phase is for older adults, those in congregate living conditions, and others who are most susceptible to the virus. People under this phase will receive their vaccination in December or January 2021. Everyone else will likely receive theirs mid-March or April of 2021.

“I’ve heard that around 42 percent of people say they won’t take a vaccine,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann at the Tuesday COVID-19 hearing. 

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“You’ve already created networks for communication and trust; how will you activate these for the next phase?” she asked Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director. 

Do-Reynoso assured Hartmann that the county is already partnering with the state to conduct an education campaign about the vaccines, but that state officials are directing her to use her local connections to create a campaign that connects better with Santa Barbarans and helps develop trust that the vaccines are safe.

Do-Reynoso also shared the county’s current status of disease transmission, which is increasing still daily. 

From November 16-30, the county saw a 61 percent increase in active cases — from 255 cases to 410. In the same time period, the county saw a 154 percent increase in hospitalization numbers — from 13 patients to 33. There was also a 2 percent increase in cumulative deaths — from 133 to 136.

In the City of Santa Barbara, there was a 61 percent increase of cases from November 12-24 — from 61 cases to 98 cases. There is an artificial plateau due to a lack of testing over Thanksgiving, but it should be back up in a couple of weeks.

The county’s adjusted case rate and positivity rate matter the most when it comes to moving out of the purple tier. The adjusted case rate, currently at 10, is the number of new cases per day for every 100,000 residents of the county averaged over a week. To move out of the purple tier and into the less-restrictive red tier, that rate must be between 4 and 7.

The positivity rate, currently 4.4 percent,  is the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 tests in the county divided by all the tests administered overall. The positivity rate increased by 144 percent — from 1.8 percent on October 31 to the current 4.4 percent. 

“To use the barometer of positive cases is a false premise,” said Peggy Wilson at public comment. “All of the stuff we would be talking about if we were using just hospitalizations and deaths would be a lot different. We will never get out of the purple tier, because as you test more people, there will be more positive tests.”

Wilson was incorrect, however. Between the first and second weeks of November, testing volume was consistent at about 11,500 tests per week. However, testing positivity increased during this time from 2.4 percent to 3.2 percent. In addition, our case rate increased during this time period.

And 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart pointed out that although Santa Barbara’s testing positivity and case rates have shot up, it’s still doing better than surrounding California counties.

“I had heard that the state average is 36 daily cases.… We’re at 10,” Hart said. “Our neighboring counties in San Luis Obispo and Ventura are significantly higher than we are here. I think it is encouraging overall — this is sobering and difficult — but it’s encouraging that our cases are significantly less than in neighboring jurisdictions. That’s clearly a reflection of our community trying very hard to do the right thing.”

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