Van Do-Reynoso | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Santa Barbara County reported its first COVID-related pediatric death Friday, just one of several grim pandemic milestones that the county has hit in recent days. The child was from Santa Maria.

“We know that Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to high rates of COVID transmission,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. “In the weeks following Thanksgiving, our COVID case rate, number of newly reported cases, number of active cases, and hospitalizations have spiked to unprecedented levels.”

Since Thanksgiving, Santa Barbara County’s unadjusted case rate has increased by 67 percent, to 30.96 cases per 100,000 people. In addition, testing positivity during this time doubled and is now at 8 percent. Active cases have increased nearly three-fold to over 1,100 active cases in the county. 

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said that California is now the epicenter of the pandemic. If California were its own country, he said, it would be among the top countries leading in new daily COVID-19 cases. California now reports 220 COVID-19 deaths per day and 38,000 daily new cases. The intensive care unit capacity in the Southern California Region that Santa Barbara is included in fell to zero percent this week.

But it wasn’t all bad news at the Friday press conference. Just one day earlier, Cottage hospital administered its first three doses of the Pfizer vaccine to medical workers on the COVID-19 unit. Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, the chair of Cottage’s infectious disease division, was one of those three.

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Fitzgibbons offered a view of what the experience was like. She had a “slightly sore arm for 12 hours, and now it’s gone.” Other than that, she reported no side effects. She said that by the end of the day, 250 frontline workers at Cottage Hospital will have also received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine. The second vaccine by Moderna was approved by the FDA today and will hit Santa Barbara by the upcoming week.

“This vaccine is poised to play a critical role by quickly protecting our most exposed and vulnerable, but it will be many weeks or more before we have a substantial portion of our community protected,” Fitzgibbons said.

She made it clear that the vaccine protects against symptoms, but it is unknown if it protects against asymptomatic transmission. Therefore, those who receive vaccines still need to wear masks, socially distance, and regularly wash hands.

Fitzgibbons also gave an inside look “into the trenches” at the hospital’s COVID unit. The hospital has a record number of patients and new admissions. She said that even though the hospital is still in a position to treat the patients, every day that brings a new record that “reminds us that we must listen to this excellent public health advice. We must wear our masks; we must make those tough-but-kind decisions; and we must do whatever we can until this vaccine kicks in to bend this curve.” 

UPDATE: The headline was updated 12/21/20 to add “COVID-Related.”

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