As Santa Barbara County approaches one year since the pandemic first hit, the Board of Supervisors continues to grapple with protecting its community from mass evictions. After California passed the Tenant Relief Act (Senate Bill 91) last week, the county is now eligible for $14.3 million from the federal treasury in addition to the $13.4 million already received from the feds via the state — upward of $27 million to help tenants and landlords.
SB 91 extends residential eviction protections through June 30, 2021, and requires landlords to forgive 20 percent of accumulated rental arrears in exchange for 80 percent on the payment through the state rental assistance program. The supervisors are faced with a choice between three ways to allocate the rental assistance dollars.
The first is a program that would be managed by the state on behalf of county residents and follow state deadlines, the second is a county-administered program that would require about 20-30 additional county staff, and the third one — which is recommended by staff — is a hybrid program in which the state would manage the $14.3 million and the county the $13.4 million.
First District Supervisor Das Williams and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart both were wary about staff’s recommendation because of past experiences with the state being slow to roll out.
“I share some of the concerns that Supervisor Williams expressed,” Hart said. “I just don’t honestly have any confidence that the state’s going to be able to do this. They have a lot on their plate. I know this is a daunting idea that we would staff up ourselves, but I would have a lot more confidence in our ability to do that than I do in the state’s.”
Some supervisors were concerned that finding the staff for the second option was a problem, but County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato explained that that isn’t the issue.
“It really is about if we want our program … to go forward in the way that they describe, we have to choose hybrid program number three,” she said. “If we want complete control of the state money, then we have to go through program option two, which means we are required to do the state’s program, even for our federal direct allocation.”
The supervisors will vote on one of the three programs at their next meeting, Tuesday, February 9.
Vaccines and Beyond
There have been 51,375 COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the county so far. Of those, 38,334 doses made it into someone’s arm — or 74.6 percent. These include first and second doses.
This amount still isn’t enough to vaccinate all of the county’s health-care workers and people over 75 — the only groups currently allowed to get vaccinated in the county — but Santa Barbara County isn’t alone in this. Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said all counties in the Southern California region are struggling to obtain more vaccines even if they’re vaccinating people over 65, too.
“This has really illuminated the challenge that we have, which is fundamentally based on the fact that there aren’t enough vaccines that have been produced,” Hart said about Do-Reynoso’s presentation. “That has created tremendous uncertainty and anxiety in our public. Folks read in the paper that folks under 65 in other counties are getting vaccinated, but in Santa Barbara County we understand we don’t have enough vaccines to do that.”
But despite this shortcoming, Supervisor Williams pointed out that Santa Barbara is still faring well, comparatively. He cited a statistic that the average population vaccinated in Europe so far is 2 percent, about how much Santa Barbara is vaccinating in a week and a half. The average in the United States is 7 percent.
“We can be frustrated, we can be angry, but let’s also put it in the context of the rest of the world,” Williams said. “There are really only two places doing better, which are Israel and Great Britain.”
COVID-19 cases are continuing to trend downward, as well. Over the last two weeks, active cases have decreased by roughly 50 percent, from 2,568 to 1,288. Isla Vista is the only community that is continuing to report an increase — its seven-day rolling sum from January 14-28 went from 55 to 64 cases.
Over the past two weeks, January 18-February 1, hospitalizations have decreased from 208 to 170. Deaths have increased by 29 percent — from 231 to 298. Public Health reported 67 deaths in a two-week period. In the same time period, intensive-care-unit actual availability has increased from 7 percent to 17.1 percent, but that’s still low and of concern, Do-Reynoso said.
For the week of January 17-23, the adjusted case rate is 47.2, and the positivity rate is 11.2. For schools to reopen in person, the adjusted case rate must further drop to 25 cases per 100,000 or less. Do-Reynoso said her department is working with six districts, including Santa Barbara Unified and Goleta Union, on their COVID safety plan, which is required to get approval to reopen. Once these plans are approved and the adjusted case rate drops to 25, these districts can open in person.
Do-Reynoso also warned of new variants of the virus that are near Santa Barbara County. Variants in Los Angeles County have been connected to super-spreader events, and she said another type of variant was discovered in Ventura County recently. Public Health officials in Ventura announced last Friday that sewage studies in Oxnard found about 0.3 percent of the virus present had a mutation common to both the U.K. and South African variants. Ventura’s health officer, Dr. Robert Levin, stated the virus was present in his county but not widespread yet.
“We are worried because of what we read; they are more infectious, and ultimately lead to an exponential growth in cases, which will impact hospitalizations and even death,” Do-Reynoso said. “Until we have reached that 80-85 percent herd immunity, we really need to adhere to masking and social distancing.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the county had administered 86 percent of received COVID vaccines, but the correct figure is 74.6 percent.
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