The bad news is that COVID-related deaths are at an all-time high; the good news is that new case rates have dropped significantly, as are the numbers of patients now hospitalized with COVID or in intensive-care units. With this in mind, public health czars Dr. Henning Ansorg and Dr. Van Do-Reynoso expressed apprehension and concern about the prospect of large group celebrations taking place during this Sunday’s Super Bowl game between the Buccaneers and the Chiefs. Ansorg, the county’s Public Health Officer, cautioned against turning “Super Bowl Sunday into Super Spreader Sunday.” Do-Reynoso preached the gospel of keeping such gatherings small (no more than three households), short (no more than two hours), and outside.
In the meantime, they urged patience for those who might be frustrated and anxious about the slow pace of vaccination. The supply of new vaccines, Do-Reynoso stated, was small. Scheduling first and second shots for everyone eligible, she stated, was logistically challenging when county Public Health administrators had little idea from week to week how many new doses they might get.
In an attempt to put the enormity of the challenge into proper perspective, Ansorg conjured what had to be the ultimate math problem from hell. Santa Barbara County has 36,000 people age 75 and older and 26,000 health-care workers — both of which have been placed in the highest priority. In Santa Barbara, 75 percent of the seniors and 50 percent of the health-care workers have opted to receive their vaccines. Given that each of these requires two vaccines, Ansorg added, that means that tier needs 80,000 doses. Given that the county is getting 6,000 new doses a week, he said it will take about six more weeks before this tier is completely vaccinated.
“Please bear with us,” he said. “This is a difficult time.”
Or, as Do-Reynoso said, at some point vaccines will be available for people 65 years and older, teachers, childcare workers, emergency workers, food and grocery workers, and farmworkers. But they don’t know when.
In the past week, 45 people in Santa Barbara County have died from COVID, bringing the county’s total to 334. Latinos — who make up 45 percent of the population — make up 58 percent of the deceased. White people — who make up 43 percent of the population — make up 38 percent of the deceased.
To date, the county has not been able to put together a reliable statistical breakdown for who has been vaccinated. That, Do-Reynoso said, will be available at the end of next week. Ethnicity and culture, both Ansorg and Do-Reynoso said, play a role in receptivity to being vaccinated. Ansorg noted that 50 percent of all health-care workers on average have agreed to be vaccinated. But the numbers vary depending on the field. For example, he said, only 30 percent of all workers at skilled nursing homes have agreed to be vaccinated, while 80 percent of Cottage employees have. He blamed “hoaxes” perpetrated on social media for spreading misinformation that the vaccine induces sterility or prevents conception. He added that there’s greater reluctance in minority populations to trust information coming from government officials. To address such concerns, Do-Reynoso said, the county will be hosting a Town Hall meeting next week — on February 11. Members of the public can ask any questions they have.
In the same breath that Do-Reynoso acknowledged the progress Santa Barbara has been making — through individual and collective action, she said — she stressed how far the county still has to go. For example, to open schools, she said, county residents need to get the rate of new positive cases down to 25 a day. In the meantime, she said, her department has been reviewing safety plans with multiple school districts. Santa Barbara Unified School District reports the county has given its safety plan the green light. But such plans can’t be put into practice until case rates drop further. The same is true to get the county to shift from the most restrictive purple tier into the less restrictive red one. To qualify for red, the county’s new case rate has to drop to fewer than 32 a day. Right now, Do-Reynoso stated, the county is averaging 157 new cases a day.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that it would take 12 more weeks to finish vaccinating the first tier of health-care workers and those 75 and older. In fact, it will take six more weeks to finish vaccinating this tier.
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