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SB County leaders looking ahead to looming fall flu season, schools’ remote return

Flu vaccine 2019
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Last year, nine Santa Barbara County residents and over 700 people in California passed away from the flu.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - With Santa Barbara County schools already restarting classes remotely and the upcoming flu season only weeks away, Santa Barbara County leaders are turning their focus to the fall.

The fall flu season was a key topic at Friday's Santa Barbara County COVID-19 press conference. Local health officials and those around the country are apprehensive about dealing with the already-problematic seasonal flu virus and COVID-19 simultaneously. Each alone threaten to strain hospital bed capacity.

“We haven’t had overlapping wide-scale virus outbreaks at the same time since the Spanish Flu pandemic more than 100 years ago,” Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said Friday. “Don’t let reports of imperfect flu vaccine efficacy stop you from getting vaccinated this year… An avoided hospital visit keeps the hospital bed available for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients that require hospital care.”

Hart pointed out Friday that the U.S. was somewhat fortunate this past winter, seeing a relatively mild flu season that largely subsided before the coronavirus pandemic began.

The county's Department of Public Health is urging that everyone plan ahead to get vaccinated for the flu as soon as possible. Hart said the flu vaccine will be available free of charge at county health clinics beginning next month.

Meanwhile, schools across the County have already started another school year with more set to do so next week. All public and private schools in the county will begin the year remotely, following the state health guidelines for counties, such as Santa Barbara, that remain on the state watch list.

Schools can apply for waivers to bring students physically back to campus before the county is officially removed from the watch list. Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg makes the final decisions on those waivers.

Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said Friday, however, that the county's 14-day COVID-19 case rate must improve before K-12 students can return to campuses.

“Our health officer [Dr. Ansorg] will not be considering waivers until our county rate is well under 200 cases per 100 thousand people,” she said. “Our case rate continues to be above 200, which tells us that there’s high disease transmission in Santa Barbara County.”

There is hope that online learning will go more smoothly than it did in the spring.

“We’ve had some more time to prepare,” said Susan Salcido, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools. “All of our districts have engaged with their teachers for how to teach well in a remote learning environment.”

There are still plenty of hurdles to clear, such as keeping students engaged, providing everyone with the proper devices and online connectivity, and providing child care for parents who must leave the house to work.

“Schools are engaging with external partners… in some cases to provide child care options for community members,” Salcido said, while not naming specific partners because plans are not complete yet.

County leaders hope ongoing technical data errors at the state level--which currently make the county's daily coronavirus case numbers unreliable--are resolved by next week.

Safety / Santa Barbara- S County / Santa Maria - North County

Ryan Fish

Ryan Fish is a reporter, sports anchor and forecaster at KEYT|KCOY|KKFX.