Registered Nurse Nancy Sparkman reviews vaccine information with Santa Barbara resident Rodger Pynn. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Santa Barbara County health officials were brimming with cautious optimism Friday as they delivered their weekly address on the region’s latest COVID-19 data. 

In short, they said, the numbers are looking good. Very good. Over the past week, the testing positivity rate has decreased by 22 percent. Case rates went down by 34 percent. And active cases shrank by 23 percent.

“The metrics continue to decline, and that is something to celebrate,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department. “This is really good news, and if the trends continue, we will be able to continue reopening in the near future.”

Of the 105,160 vaccines the county has received, 81 percent have been administered, Do-Reynoso said. The remaining doses are slated for clinics that will open in the next few days. “If you have yet to be vaccinated,” she said, “know that we are advocating for more vaccines and planning for a day in the very near future where you will be vaccinated. Until then, please be patient.”

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Those in the Phase 1A category ― healthcare workers, emergency medical personnel, and long-term care staff and residents ― remain eligible for the vaccine, Do-Reynoso explained, but the primary focus for her department has now shifted to giving shots to individuals in Phase 1B. That includes people 65 and older, agricultural workers, educators and childcare providers, and emergency service staff.

Find more information at the Public Health Department’s website.

A few weeks ago, Do-Reynoso went on, the state announced a shift to a new age-based system with a focus on those with underlying health conditions. It was supposed to be implemented by March 15, “However, there are still yet many unknowns with regards to how this will work,” she said. It’s now more likely the new process will kick in sometime at the end of March. “We are still working closely with our healthcare partners and in the next few weeks will decide what this phase will look like,” she said.

During the same presentation, Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara’s Health Officer, announced that in addition to our regular incoming shipments of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the county will receive 3,800 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as next week. Ansorg was bullish on the new option, touting the several advantages it has over its two competitors. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just one shot instead of two, Ansorg explained, produces fewer and less severe allergic reactions, is easier to transport and handle, and is “highly effective” in protecting people against the ravages of the virus. “I am predicting this vaccine will become the preferred option for many people,” he said.

Despite all the good news, Ansorg reminded residents that Santa Barbara County is not yet in the clear. We’re still stuck in the purple tier because infections continue to be widespread ― 11.3 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest figures, when we need to hit seven or fewer to reach the red tier. We must remain careful. That means continuing to wear masks and avoiding gatherings, Ansorg insisted, especially among the families and supporters who are now watching high school athletes return to their home fields. “Please be patient and considerate,” he said.

As an added argument to stay vigilant, Ansorg stressed that frontline healthcare workers are looking after 322 active cases, 53 of which are hospitalized. They’ve also seen 422 people die. The last year “has taken such a toll on them,” he said. “You have no idea. They are emotionally drained by experiencing these solitary deaths in the hospital. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories.”

So while we should allow ourselves a moment to be proud of the progress we’ve made in stamping out the virus, Ansorg said, we must continue to hold the line. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said.

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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