COVID In Santa Barbara: Scary Numbers, Long Lines

Not Enough Vaccines as Cases Skyrocket

Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso didn’t scream or shout when disseminating the latest grim numbers about COVID in Santa Barbara County; that’s never been her style. The numbers — released at this Friday’s weekly media briefing — scream and shout for themselves. 

Five more people were reported dead by COVID this Friday, bringing the county’s total to 228. At the beginning of the week, it was fewer than 200. County Public Health authorities reported 364 new cases this Friday, a decline from earlier this week. Santa Barbara County now reports 3,783 active cases with 192 sick enough to require hospitalization and 52 sick enough to be placed into intensive care units. 

“I’d like to pause here and have a little more of a conversation about the dire straits the county is in,” Do-Reynoso stated. This past Sunday, she noted, the county reported 779 new cases. That’s 200 more than the next highest day. It’s 600 more than the county experienced prior to the recent holidays. Since then, she added, the county has experienced a four-fold increase in the number of hospitalizations and a four-fold increase in the percent of people testing positive per 100,000. 

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Perhaps the scariest number of the day was the most undramatic and in some ways, the most inscrutable. The R-effective rate is a measure given to rate the virulence of an epidemic. In this case, it measures the number of people anyone with COVD will infect. Anything over 1 is seriously alarming, indicating an exponential rate of growth. Not all places experience the same rate of infection as spread for the same disease. Santa Barbara County, it turns out holds the dubious distinction of having the highest R-effective rate in the state. That means people infected with COVID here are more likely to get more other people sick than in any of California’s other 57 counties. Our count is 1.27 percent. Hazarding an explanation as to why, Dr. Henning Ansorg — the county’s public health officer — stated, “Santa Barbara Is simply a very beautiful place. It attracts lots of visitors. It attracts a lot of activities. It’s very social, and people like to get together and party.” 

There was much discussion at Friday’s briefing about changes in how the vaccine is being rolled out. Governor Gavin Newsom, now facing the credible threat of a statewide recall campaign, announced this Wednesday that California would begin offering the vaccines to people 65 years and older. That’s a significant acceleration from the existing timetable. It’s also not possible given limitations of the existing supply of the vaccine.  

Beginning next Wednesday — January 20 — Do-Reynoso announced that the county would begin offering vaccines to people 75 years and older. People from the ages of 65 to 74 would have to wait until new supplies come online. Given news reports released Friday that the national vaccine inventory might be significantly more depleted than expected, it’s uncertain when that will be. (Federal health officials, it turns out, have been releasing “the second dose” supplies since sometime in December. Until this information was reported, many health authorities had eyed these second doses as a way to make existing inventories stretch further.)

To date, 38,075 doses have been released to various health entities throughout Santa Barbara County. Of those, 51 percent — about 15,000 — have been injected into the arms of county residents, mostly those of frontline health-care workers. Most but not all health-care workers have been immunized.

There are roughly 32,000 county residents 75 years of age or older, but only 17,000 doses remain. Another 10,000 have been ordered. It remains to be seen how many of these can and will be delivered. “All these numbers are trying to say we don’t have enough for our county,” Do-Reynoso said. 

The governor’s announcement regarding the availability of vaccines for people 65 and older triggered an avalanche of phone calls to any and every office populated by doctors and other health-care professionals, the callers wanting to know when they could get their shot.

The Independent heard from one popular assisted-living facility in Goleta whose residents still had not gotten vaccinated despite the evident fragility of its 60 residents. The county contracted with CVS to administer the vaccines, but after nearly three weeks, the vaccinations have still not occurred. The owner was calling every elected official on the South Coast to get help. It made no sense, he objected, that people 65 and older were now eligible for vaccines while his workers and residents had not been cared for. In the intervening time, he noted, his facility reported its first resident to test positive for COVID.

During the press briefing, Do-Reynoso said that her department has expanded the number of large commercial pharmacies providing vaccination services in Santa Barbara. 

Before concluding her remarks, Do-Reynoso reminded anyone attending to mind the “Four Ws.” That means wearing masks, watching social distances, washing hands, and waiting on social gatherings. “I’d like you to join me,” she said, “in a call to action.” 

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+.


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