Dr. Charity Dean, the well-respected former County Public Health officer, brushed off recent suggestions in a Montecito weekly that she should be named Santa Barbara County’s “COVID Czar.” When asked about this by the Independent, Dean replied in a text: “Santa Barbara County already has a COVID czar; the county health officer and public health director. And they are doing a fantastic job. They have my full support. You can quote me on that.”
Dean, who is the focus of a new book by best-selling journalist Michael Lewis, scheduled for release this May, served as Santa Barbara County’s public health officer with distinction. She left that post to take the number two spot with the California Department of Public Health, and from there, she was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to the task force charged with bringing order to the chaos then dominating the COVID testing program.
Dean has returned to Santa Barbara, where she is reportedly in the process of creating a private equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Direct Relief spokesperson Tony Morain also categorically dismissed a similar suggestion that its CEO, Thomas Tighe, might take the post. A front-page editorial appearing in the Montecito Journal suggested Dean or Tighe would be good candidates to replace Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg and Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso, who have held those positions at the time the COVID pandemic hit Santa Barbara.
At this week’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors Das Williams, Gregg Hart, and Joan Hartmann expressed unequivocal support for Ansorg and Do-Reynoso, citing their dedication and the quality of their leadership. Supervisor Hartmann described their task as the equivalent of driving a car while building it, while getting new parts that don’t fit, as the car runs out of gas, under hurricane conditions.
Though Governor Newsom had officially declared that individuals 65 years of age and older were eligible for vaccinations earlier this year, the fact is that there is an acute shortage of vaccines in this county and statewide. Opening up vaccines to younger residents is only a theoretical possibility at this time.
County health officials have been forced to insist that frontline health workers and residents 75 years old or more be given first priority for vaccines because they are most exposed and vulnerable. Together, those groups comprise 58,000 individuals. To date, 64 percent of those 75 and older have been vaccinated. For health-care workers, the number is 50 percent.
Governor Newsom has changed the rules regarding COVID many times, sometimes quite suddenly and often inconsistently. More recently, he has declined to consider creating a special tier for people in the 65-to-74 range with comorbidities.
Trying to weigh competing comorbidities when dispensing a limited number of vaccines in the face of overwhelming demand has worried health administrators across the nation. However, Do-Reynoso stated Tuesday she would be open to considering such a provision were there to be sufficient vaccines available.
The real problem, according to the supervisors, is the lack of vaccines, not the lack of leadership. The only real solution is an increase in supply. Supervisor Williams, whose district includes Montecito, stated, “It’s completely understandable given the level of fear for people to want to be frustrated, to want someone held accountable, to have someone to blame. But in a crisis, that’s not how we in a community should behave.”
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