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Low COVID case rates reported but Delta variant is a high concern

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After a big spike in January, Santa Barbara County has seen a steady decline in COVID-19 cases as more of the population received vaccinations. The new Delta variant, however, has health leaders very concerned.

The public health order on COVID, in place since Spring of 2020 has ended, but it may be reinstated if case rates increase to a level that requires new protective actions.

According to Santa Barbara County Health Director, Dr. Van Do-Reynoso told the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, as of June 30, Santa Barbara County has administered 463,733 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to residents. The majority of those receiving their vaccines were at age 50 and over. "Older individuals are more likely to be vaccinated in Santa Barbara County," said Do-Reynoso.

She said the winter wave surpassed the summer wave and the majority of the cases were working adults.

From March 2020 through June 2021, the health department said 33,584 cases of COVID were reported in Santa Barbara County.

January and February 2021 showed the highest number of deaths and "Hispanics and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19."

The City of Santa Maria had the highest case count followed by Santa Barbara and Lompoc.

Do-Reynoso said 49 percent are fully vaccinated with 68 percent of the population have received their first or second doses.

The county is hoping to increase the vaccination rate by zip codes. One zip code in Carpinteria, with a few hundred residents, is at 100 percent according to a county graph, but the larger Carpinteria zip code area, 93013 is at 68 percent.

There is an outreach effort underway specifically aimed at young people, who have the lowest rate of vaccinations.

169 deaths were reported in January with February having 76. "Our recent deaths were 100 percent unvaccinated people," said County Health Officer Henning Ansorg.

Supervisor Das Williams said that information was hard to hear. "I want to urge folks who are healthy to go get vaccinated," he said.

The new Delta variant is active in the United States. The Delta variant is two times more infectious, according to current research.

"We are seeing a slight increase in cases especially in the last few days, 36 on Saturday, 18 on Sunday and 20 on Monday. The key message that we are pushing out is vaccination. It remains critical," said, Do-Reynoso. "Especially with circulating variants."

The new school year starting next month comes with guidance from health officials locally and in Sacramento.

"All students must have full access to safe instruction," said Do-Reynoso. Universal masking for indoors has been required for the upcoming school year, by the California Department of Public Health, and then it was followed up by a change in the state's position. That is giving local districts more discretion on how COVID safety plans including mask recommendations, ventilation, cleaning, vaccine verification would be implemented.

Supervisor Bob Nelson asked for clarification, but the new message was released just prior to the meeting and needed local analysis first.

"COVID-19 is not completely behind us," said Do-Reynoso, with concerns about the latest variant.

The presentation to the weekly supervisors meeting today will be the last regular update from the health department.

A special thanks was given to all the county departments that stepped up to assist in the rollout of solutions during the last year and a half.

"We have come through five and brimstone the last 15 months," said Do-Reynoso. "Public Health was never alone in this fight."

Concerns were raised about the youngest range or the population at risk for COVID.

"When children are exposed there are outbreaks," said Do-Reynoso. "They are not immune."

Supervisor Das Williams said adults need to get vaccinated because of the risks they could be to children.

Social distancing is difficult to maintain with kids, and the recent health department measures is a balance. "There are many parents who would not want to send their kids back to school without universal masking," said Ansorg.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino reminded the public he had to travel recently with a flight to Washington D.C., and had to wear a mask at the airport under the ongoing travel rules.

The supervisors also talked about the comparison between the side effects of the COVID vaccination, such as rare health inflammations, to the impacts of having the virus with its possible immediate and long-term impacts.

"We want people to be protected," from the risks that still exist in the community, said Supervisor Gregg Hart.

To declare a "victory" the health department says the vaccination rate would have to be around 95 percent according to Ansorg. "It will probably remain in the community at a very low level, and not completely eradicated," he said.

Wearing a mask is "by far the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus," said Ansorg.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she was impressed with the county's response and ways of engaging the public. "Government can't do it alone," she said.

For more information go to: Santa Barbara County Health

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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