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(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) – In recent weeks the highly infectious Omicron BA.5 subtype has been circulating broadly. Throughout the pandemic, the COVID-19 virus has mutated frequently, creating new and even more transmissible strains. BA.5 is no exception. It is more transmissible compared to earlier Omicron variants but generally does not cause more severe illness. Over the past month, Santa Barbara County has seen higher infection rates as well as an uptick in hospitalizations. Local hospitals remain well positioned and with enough capacity to tend to all patients, especially more severely ill patients.

Higher infection rates are a result of the virus being more capable to bypass the immune defense of the body. The virus is also able to reinfect persons who have recovered from COVID-19 even relatively recently. The best protection still is getting fully vaccinated and boosted per CDC recommendations. Significantly less severe illness is currently being seen due to a less virulent version of the virus, potent medications that are widely available, as well as the partial immunity either through vaccination, recovery from infection, or both in Santa Barbara County’s population. 

 “Treatment for those who contract COVID-19 is widely available and has proven to be a significant tool in the fight against severe cases of the illness,” shared Dr. Henning Ansorg, County Health Officer. 

COVID-19 community levels have been in the high range since July 14, 2022 in Santa Barbara County according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This reflects an increase in new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, new COVID-19 related hospital admissions per 100,000 population, and the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. It is important to note that this increase is being seen across California and local hospital ICU numbers remain low. 

Given that the local healthcare system is stable and well equipped to care for more severe COVID-19 cases, there is currently no need to implement a mask mandate in Santa Barbara County. 

Prevention strategies continue to be key in reducing the spread of the virus. It is important to continue the following precautions:

  • Get yourself and your family fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. 
  • Wear a well-fitted mask in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces.
  • Seek testing if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
  • Stay home if you are not feeling well and isolate if you test positive for COVID-19.

To find information about COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and treatment visit


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