Van Do-Reynoso and Dr. Henning Ansorg put on a full-court press Friday to make the case for vaccinations in the last of their 88 regular press conferences over 15 months of pandemic. The point, as Steve Popkin, CEO of Lompoc Valley Medical Center wrote in his weekly update: “if you want to make sure you don’t end up in the hospital due to Covid, get vaccinated.” He noted two people had died of COVID this week compared to zero last week, bringing the total to 455 individuals who’d died since the first death reported on April 1, 2020.
In Popkin’s Friday update — which have featured pop culture “on this date” facts like Elvis Presley’s birthday and, this week, that suffragette Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for voting in 1873 — he also said Lompoc hospital’s vaccine clinic would go from two days a week to one due to the lack of demand.
That leveling off of interest is what Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County’s public health leader, and Ansorg, the county’s health officer, are trying to combat. Nearly 66 percent of the county older than the age of 12 has had at least one shot — and nearly 57 percent is fully vaccinated.
Ansorg was confident the current level of immunity protected the community from a large outbreak — “I hope I am going to be right,” he amended — which would be first flagged by the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Measures may have to be implemented again, he warned, if the trend went in the wrong direction.
Now it was a matter of getting the procrastinators to take up the vaccine, he said. The virus replicated and mutated when it could spread through a lot of people, “so in a region where people are immune to a large degree, that risk is minimized.”
The virus mutations have so far been susceptible to the vaccines, but what has become clear is the danger in the transmission rate of the Delta variant, Ansorg outlined. Delta dominated India within three months of its first detection and now accounts for 10 percent of U.S. infections. One person with the Delta variant gave it to five or six others, Ansorg advised, while someone with the original “wild” virus gave it to two or three people. It has been responsible for more hospitalizations among younger people, he added.
Of the eight patients in a Santa Barbara County hospital with COVID, he said — three of them in an intensive care unit — none were vaccinated. “Our vaccines, they are all so effective. It is a rarity for anyone who’s been vaccinated to be seen in any hospital setting.”
Do-Reynoso quickly went over the quantity of people, races, and ethnicities who’ve been fully vaccinated, a rate that remains disproportionately low among the American Indian, Black, and Latinx communities. While Latinx people make up 48 percent of the county, the illness rate remains skewed at 57 percent and the vaccinated rate at a low 35 percent. Vaccination rates among American Indian and Black communities are less than 30 percent, while just over 2 percent of American Indians contracted COVID, and less than one percent of the Black community.
Conversely, 63 percent of the Pacific Islander community of 676 persons is vaccinated (and 0.1 percent of cases), 45 percent of white people are vaccinated (and 17 percent of cases), and 44 percent of Asian people are vaccinated (and nearly 2 percent of cases).
“I’m not throwing in the towel,” Do-Reynoso declared of the vaccination statistics, which have leveled off since May. She was optimistic that by keeping the vaccine easy, accessible, and free — she emphasized the vaccine is always free — the county would get to an 80 percent herd immunity protection level. Twenty-two community partners were helping her department spread the word throughout the county, through phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, videos, and small group meetings in comfortable and familiar settings. They were concentrating on the north and central parts of the county, which had vaccination rates of nearly 40 percent compared to 57 percent in the South County. And when cases were reported, her teams continue to contact trace, quarantine, and follow up.
What will also help achieve herd immunity is approval for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children younger than 12, which is expected in October, Ansorg said. Children make up about 15 percent of the county’s population. He added that parents could be reassured that children under 10, unless they had a congenital illness, seemed generally protected from severe illness from COVID-19.
As he has frequently advocated, for parents and kids during the summer, outdoors is a safer place than indoors. The exception was a big outdoor event, like a huge concert where people are shoulder-to-shoulder, screaming or singing, Ansorg said. Even if only a few in the crowd were infected, the virus could spread in a scene like that, so attendees will be required to wear a mask. But whether indoors or outdoors, if a person felt uncomfortable or unprotected without a mask, “You should listen to your own intuitive sense” and use the mask, he added.
The diminishing disease statewide encouraged CalOSHA on Thursday to drop the mask mandate in workplaces where everyone is vaccinated, and to leave the degree of vaccination verification — a verbal statement could do — up to business owners. (People can retrieve their vaccination record at the state’s new website MyVaccineRecord.cdph.ca.gov.)
Skilled nursing facilities, which were hard-hit by the pandemic, are among the health-care settings that still require masks, though residents have a high rate of vaccination: “The residents are so much more vulnerable to potential infection,” Ansorg said. Among the support staff, some of whom were reportedly resistant to vaccination in the early days, the vaccination rate was as high as 70-80 percent at some facilities, now that the benefits were clear.
Convinced? Do-Reynoso referred to the state’s MyTurn website for vaccination sites throughout Santa Barbara County, as well as County Public Health’s walk-up clinics at the Santa Maria Fairpark Sunday-Thursday and mobile clinic hours listed at PublicHealthSBC.org/vaccine.
As well as the end of the Friday press events, Public Health will no longer post daily COVID updates. Do-Reynoso will continue to update the Board of Supervisors on Tuesdays, and the county will send weekly bulletins, which the public can sign up for here.