SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The flip of the calendar is not leaving the COVID-19 crisis behind, and it was noted during the first meeting of the year for the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Two supervisors won their seats in reelections in 2020. Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann and First District Supervisor Das Williams start new four year terms along with newly elected Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson who replaces Peter Adam.
Nelson was picked as the Board Chairman.
"It's an honor to have an opportunity to nominate him," said Supervisor Joan Hartmann. It was passed unanimously.
Nelson said, looking ahead, "with a little bit of will and a lot of technology" we can do more. As for priorities, "a job and a house those are things that have been threatened," during the COVID crisis.
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he supported Nelson's goals and "we are all trying to make it a better place for our kids and our grandkids."
Outgoing Board Chairman Gregg Hart said, "I have been speaking a lot this past year." Hart has not only led the Supervisors meeting but also the public briefings on the coronavirus, sometimes multiple times in one week.
When speaking of his staff and those on the county employee team, "the term essential has taken on a new meaning this past year," Hart said.
Hart said the County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato has been a vital leader during the crisis. He said in these trying times, "there's no one you want more in the trenches than Mona."
He also said, "we are a tough, resilient and passionate community."
With that, Hart said he wanted to demonstrate what "a peaceful transition of power looks like". He passed his gavel over to Nelson who now sits in the center position at the board meetings.
Lavagnino said to Hart, "your personality fit what we needed this year," stressing Hart's calm demeanor.
"Gregg gets that things have a long lifespan. It hasn't gotten any harder than this," said Supervisor Das Williams said of the challenges in the last year.
Nelson said, he saw that Hart had held 77 briefings on the coronavirus. "That's one every five days for a whole year." At times he said, you have to put "your priorities and your goals for your district aside," for the benefit of the entire county.
Miyasato said during Hart's time decisions have been "difficult and heartbreaking," and "not always popular."
"I never imagined what 2020 would be," said Hart "and I will never forget it as long as I live."
The meeting's agenda continued with a COVID-19 update from the Santa Barbara County Health Department. Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said the rising numbers of coronavirus cases are "astounding, astronomical." She said the increase will continue "at least until the end of January due to the holiday gatherings and travel."
The testing sites in the county currently are capable of 1173 tests a day.
A walk up, no appointment testing site was launched on Friday and Saturday in Isla Vista and the demand was very high.
There is also a mobile testing unit.
The county currently has 48 contact tracers and plans to have 53 soon.
Do-Reynoso says the most recent occupation data shows areas where the virus has the largest numbers, but she pointed out that does not necessarily mean the virus was contracted in the workplace. Those high areas are, clerical/management, health care, under 18-years old and the unemployed-retired.
Vaccinations are underway. Over 15,000 doses have been administered so far based on a priority process. (Phase 1-A)
Eventually the vaccinations will be administered at Public Health community vaccination sites, at Healthcare providers and retail pharmacies. Information is posted at Santa Barbara County Public Health.
The next phase will take place in early February. (Possibly earlier.) The registration for those clinics should be taking place next week.
Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg says the situation is fluid and may change with the new administration in the White House.
"We are getting a lot of calls in my office on where we are on the list," said Hart. The county says it is refining the web site with that information. They are also updating the 211 information phone line.
Supervisor Nelson was concerned about a mandatory vaccine requirement. The health department says that is not the case now but may be the case in the future.
On "stay at home" orders, Santa Barbara County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said, there are many health orders and emergency notices the county is acting under.
One is the California Emergency Services Act. It reads that it will "have the force and effect of law."
Local health officers have to comply with the direction of the California Department of Public Health.
Nelson says some of the orders may "backfire," by sending people into their homes.
Santa Barbara County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg says he is "empathetic" to the fatigue people have been going through with the health orders.
He said outdoor activities with a physical distance is recommended to give people a break from staying indoors.
He also said with the new strains coming that are transmitted at a higher rate than COVID-19 he expects safety measures to be in place for most of 2021.
When asked who should not get the vaccine, Dr. Ansorg said no one under the age of 16 should get the vaccine because the doses are not approved for ages under 16.
There's also been information released on small business loans, grants and stimulus plans ahead for individuals, cities and counties and businesses.
State financial assistance in the California proposed budget was released by Governor Newsom last week.
Using vacant large buildings as alternate care sites, such as the empty Sears store at the La Cumbre Plaza, the county says the option last year was "a different time and space in the pandemic," said Do-Reynoso.bIt is no longer recommended by the state.
She said, "that is not the direction of the state currently. We have surge capacity currently in our hospitals."
If more space is needed, "we would partner up in the SLO alternate care site if needed."