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Coronavirus

Wild card scenarios impact COVID-19 numbers once again in Santa Barbara County

Isla Vista mask signs
John Palminteri
Large signs are up in Isla Vista where there has been a spike in COVID cases. The community spirit effort is aimed at getting more residents, mainly students, to comply with distancing and mask wearing. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Santa Barbara County Covid analytics
New large mask signs going up in Isla Vista where there has been a spike. The latest numbers show the largest group of virus cases are people under 50 years old. (Photo: John Palminteri)
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 COUNTY, Calif. - Just like Santa Maria numbers drastically impacted the Santa Barbara County COVID-19 levels and compliance when the coronavirus first hit, now comes new concerns with the return of college students and a holiday weekend.

The newest hot spot is Isla Vista, one of the largest college towns in the Western States. Even with remote learning, thousands of students have come back. More are arriving for Santa Barbara City College classes underway now and UC Santa Barbara which starts next month.

It's unknown if anything close to the full population of about 20,000 will actually return to the normally crowded apartment and off campus housing locations.

The spike in numbers first raised two weeks ago to county officials was expected to be followed with a large scale information and education plan in Isla Vista.

Last weekend, several gatherings and parties were seen with many people attending without masks.

This included large groups going to the beach and apartment or house parties at night.

A public service video announcement has been prepared about the benefits of wearing a mask, and more signs have gone up at key locations in Isla Vista. One promoting community spirit says "Six feet apart but together at heart."

"We doubled down with our campaign and one of the things we are doing is a really robust social media advertising campaign and and meet the young people where they are at and let them know that we really do  care about their behavior," said Spencer Brandt with the Isla Vista Community Services District. "We want to make it easier for them to  follow the rules."

The City of Santa Barbara, after having a set of signs end up "missing", new ones have been made in English and Spanish.

They are positioned at beach entrances, parks and other key locations to keep the message in front of the public. There are also many signs in the downtown promenade.

"It is a social responsibility  that we all have if this is going to go away, " said Tamara Teitelbaum on her way for a beach walk. "So we can get over this. So we can get past it  at least until vaccinations come out and we know how that works and that way we can get back to a somewhat normal life again."

Recently many area governments have announced beach closures for Labor Day weekend with the exception of recreation. Anyone at the beach who is sitting, tanning, setting up a barbecue or creating an area that would be considered a normal gathering spot will be in violation of the rules. They are in place Friday September 4 though Monday morning September 7.

Recreation at the beach including walking, swimming, surfing and similar activities are approved.

The ordinance is aimed at reducing large crowds, gatherings and holiday beach parties where the coronavirus could spread from person to person.

There is a rising level of stress from members of the public and elected officials over the swaying numbers based on certain key areas.

Since March those have included the City of Santa Maria, agricultural worker housing, the Lompoc Federal Prison, bar and nightclub operations after 10 p.m. , youth gatherings and most recently the community of Isla Vista.

Recent analytics show the largest group with the virus is generally under 50 years old. Early on in the virus outbreak the younger population was not considered the biggest problem.

"I have noticed on social media seeing people being more willing to be in bigger groups of people without masks on and it makes me realize who I who I will and will not keep in my little circle,  my COVID bubble," said Gabrielle Teitelbaum.

She says age is not a protection against the virus if you are a high school or college student. "It's not like everybody gets a luxury even if you are young to just do whatever you want to do and we have seen that happen where young people also get sick and there are life  changing  impacts," said Teitenlbaum.

To get the economy going again, mask wearing is said to be part of a committed package of protections. "To return to all those things that are part of  normal life  and part of people's basic ability  to provide for themselves and their kids. Mask wearing is a small price to pay for that," said Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and KCOY 12 Central Coast News.