While COVID-19 rates are steadily decreasing throughout Santa Barbara County, it isn’t going fast enough for schools to reopen — so the Public Health Department is stepping in to help.
The Public Health Department is sending a letter of support to the state Public Health Department to endorse Santa Barbara Unified’s request to reopen and ask that they allow the district to reopen within seven days of the letter. The adjusted case rate, currently at 36.4, is the number of new cases per day for every 100,000 residents of the county averaged over a week. The state requires the adjusted case rate to be down to 25 or less to reopen elementary schools.
“Our rationale is that there are existing schools reopened under the waiver process in Santa Barbara, and they have been able to reopen safely while COVID rages around in the community,” county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso explained to county supervisors on Tuesday. “The other piece is equity — disadvantaged students should have the same opportunities for in-person instruction as other schools in the same area.”
Santa Barbara Unified had its safety plan approved by the Public Health Department last Friday. Do-Reynoso said that any other districts that also get their safety plans approved and would like to reopen can request a similar letter to Santa Barbara Unified.
“In terms of numbers and in terms of the future, our children are the masses that have been affected by the vaccine,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said. “We are seeing large numbers across the state — in fact, 155,000 — students that have just dropped off the face of the earth [in online learning].”
Williams said the explanation for the kids who have not shown up to their online schooling is “not good” and is either because they aren’t going to school at all or, in some cases, their families have left the public school system and “will probably never return.” Williams said reopening schools is urgent.
“I’m in the 65 and up group and I have so many friends in other countries and other states that have received the vaccine,” said community member Gordon Feingold during public comment. “The majority of our friends in our age group seemed to have received it already, and some have already had their second doses.… It seems like Santa Barbara County isn’t receiving its share of vaccines.”
Feingold’s anecdotes are shared by many others who have concerns with Santa Barbara County’s vaccine distribution. However, Do-Reynoso assured the public that the county is getting every dose possible, but it has stuck to only vaccinating those 75 and over and health-care workers because there simply are not enough vaccines to move on to the next group yet, and there are still people willing to get vaccinated in the current tier.
“We have vaccinated roughly 64.2 percent of the 75+ in our county,” Do-Reynoso said. “We are nearing the state where we are comfortable exploring with our community health-care providers moving on to the next phase. That is a conversation that we are having this week.”
To date, the county has received 61,000 doses of the vaccine. Nearly half of those doses were allocated to hospitals. Twenty-one percent of the doses were allocated to clinics, and 19 percent were allocated to Public Health vaccination sites. Pharmacies and health-care providers received the remainder, 7 percent and 4 percent of the doses, respectively.
For the first time, Do-Reynoso presented a breakdown of who has been vaccinated by race and ethnicity. White people have been vaccinated the most — 31 percent — while Latinos come in at 18 percent. A few groups were at zero percent: Native American people and Black people.
“While it is concerning to us that we have several community groups at zero percent, we will be doubling down on ensuring that these community members will have access to vaccines as well as working with our partners to address vaccine hesitancy and identify any barriers to our community members accessing vaccines when they become eligible,” Do-Reynoso said.
BY THE NUMBERS
More people died of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County in 2021 so far than the entire year of 2020. This is the single worst data point among more encouraging data.
Over the past two weeks, active cases decreased by 51 percent from 2,085 to 1,028; deaths have increased by 26 percent from 267 to 337; hospitalizations have decreased by 27 percent from 192 to 141; and intensive-care-unit rates have decreased by 20 percent from 49 to 39.
Over the week of January 24-February 4, every area of the county all experienced a decrease in cases. Though the ICU capacity from January 25-February 8 decreased by 8 percent, the Central Coast actual ICU availability increased by 97 percent.
In response to Supreme Court rulings, the state Public Health Department modified its guidelines for places of worship. Now, in purple and red tiers, churches can have up to 25 percent capacity indoors. In orange and yellow tiers, they can have up to 50 percent capacity.
“I’m really excited about the churches reopening and the opportunity that presents,” said 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson. “That doesn’t mean churches are going to go back to normal, but it does tell us that there are limits on the infringement of our fundamental rights.”
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