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State approves limited gatherings again, but Santa Barbara County says no – for now

More precautions are necessary if Santa Barbara County wants to go to another tier
Isla Vista streets
Max Abrams/ Daily Nexus
Large groups of Isla Vista residents without masks may be contributing to the COVID-19 spike in the area. (Photo: Max Abrams/Daily Nexus)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Attempts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic are working better in the last couple of months in Santa Barbara County than we have seen since the outbreak in March.

The county has made it clear it does not want to slip back after making strong recent gains.

There is an expectation it will soon move from the red tier to the orange tier which means fewer COVID restrictions.

The state has started allowing some gatherings, but Santa Barbara County is not allowing it under the current health order, and won't for at least two more weeks to give it a chance to hold the virus numbers down.

The state has strongly held its position that gatherings were high risk. Now, it says three households may congregate at a time outdoors. That comes with a recommendation to keep spacing and wear masks. Indoor gatherings with people who are not in your household are still discouraged.

The change does not apply to a house of worship. They remain at a 25 percent cap or 100 people.

Public health officials are also nervous about the Halloween events coming up, and what that could mean in certain communities such as Isla Vista.

There the Associated Students, the Isla Vista Community Services District and the organizers of the Lucidity Festival have crafted a virtual Halloween weekend with music, spoken word and other events to divert people from the streets and into smaller inside visual parties.

The area has a reputation for large Halloween parties, however in recent years, that swarm of people, often over 10,000 has been reduced due to calming strategies. That's included a concert at the approximately 5000 seat Thunderdome on Halloween night, which can not happen this year.

Pop-up testing in Isla Vista began last week and will continue through October. With 90 percent of the results coming, in there were two positives. 

Supervisor Peter Adam has been upset at information received on Tuesday for the board meeting that is not shown to the public ahead of time. He says it "discourages critical review."

Santa Barbara County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said she would work with the staff to see "what information can be produced," for review prior to the Tuesday morning meeting.

At today's meeting, a quarterly report was presented.

Supervisor Gregg Hart says the public will now see what the Board of Supervisors is aware of on the Friday prior to the meeting followed by information that comes out Tuesday morning, the day of the meeting.

Andy Caldwell with the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) said he did not see the collaboration with agriculture as the health department showed in its presentation.

Agriculture and farming along with messages in more than one language will remain a priority to address the area with the most cases. "The occupation with the most number of workers was  agricultural workers  during the pandemic there have been nine outbreaks associated with agricultural workers," said Santa Barbara County Health Director Van Do-Reynoso.

The Board of Supervisors has also been told, outreach efforts  include coronavirus safety messages in multiple languages, along with a special outreach to farming families, many who live in crowded housing.

She also said the younger population will be monitored closely as they return to the classroom. Some are there now. More are likely in November. "Because we have been in the red tier for 14 days, K-12 now have the option for in person learning."

The Santa Barbara Unified School District will talk about its plan tonight.

The numbers also show the highest virus age group  is the population under 50 years old.

Last week's new Isla Vista pop up testing found two positive cases. The testing will be extended by appointments until November 7th.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann was concerned about the future based on what's happened elsewhere and asked, "If  we have any sense of whether the virus is more active in cold weather ."

For now there's no firm answer, but precautions will remain a primary defense.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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John Palminteri

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