SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - New contact tracing, and case investigations reveal several areas where the coronavirus is spreading and launching Santa Barbara County into the most restrictive or purple tier again.
Santa Barbara County Health Director Van Do-Reynoso briefed the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning with a grim road map, especially going into the holiday season and winter weather.
She said the latest weekly data shows, clerical workers, college students and those under 18 have the highest rate of virus cases.
Supervisor Joan Hartmann said, "in Isla Vista the numbers have gone down 56 percent." Overall however, students have a rising numbers. Health officials say that means other student populations are not following to the rules.
Supervisor Das Williams says in his Carpinteria to Santa Barbara drive he says the traffic flow has "definitely, in the last two months, been a return to normal traffic patterns." That indicated more co-workers are returning to the workplace.
Health officials say some of those workers are feeling more comfortable with their associates at work and do not fear the same virus risk as being with others outside of work. They say that may be the reason for the increase in clerical staff workers.
Williams urged a more aggressive outreach on COVID reduction education to office-based employment.
Restaurants can only operate outside under the very strict purple tier rules. Bars, breweries and wineries can serve outside where food is offered.
Schools that have already re-opened are allowed to remain open.
Schools that have not re-opened can only have instruction through a waiver process or special permission for small special instruction groups.
Supervisor Peter Adam is concerned about outreach programs. Agricultural workers were a target early on with high cases and poor messaging. That was upgraded on several platforms with an aggressive information effort in different languages. The cases have reduced since that effort.
During the meeting, Williams got out of his chair to look at a detailed overhead slide up close showing virus trends and patterns. "This is an enormously useful slide," said Williams. "Is it possible to step up outreach?"
Under the current rules, small gatherings are not permitted in Santa Barbara County. The county agrees with the state that case increases are, in part, "likely due to small gatherings."
Retail stores will drop from a 50 percent capacity to 25 percent under the new purple tier rules.
Gym, fitness centers, movie theatres, museums, and places of worship can only operate outdoors.
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino was puzzled at the criteria over "What is the justification that allows you to go into retail places at 25 percent but you can't go into your place of worship,"
Health officials say the church services take longer than a 15 minute encounter and can take up to two hours which is considered a risk for COVID exposure. "There have been published outbreaks from church events," said Do-Reynoso. "Our first set of cluster cases was due to a church event."
Lavagnino said when people feel so disconnected with their community church has many benefits and "that they have that time. I am glad people are praying out there." He wants people to have the same consideration for church options as they do for retail stores like "Costco and Walmart."
Outside of Our Lady of Sorrows church in Santa Barbara after a noon mass John Gregson said, "It strikes at the very core of our American and our human identity. We need this as much as food and water. "
His wife Irene also agreed that the retail stores were getting crowds churches can't come close to. She says in San Francisco where she lives, "at our parish we fill out a waiver and we sign it at every mass so they know our name, they know our phone number and at Costco, God knows who's next to me? "
The county is also planning a COVID vaccine plan in place. A workgroup has been developed including several partners. A full presentation will be brought back to the board on December 8.
The community testing currently can handle 165 appointments a day at three sites (Goleta, Buellton and Santa Maria.) Goleta is routinely full. The health department says it will be increased to a six-day a week schedule.
Lavagnino is asking for an economic report to the board. He is hearing of a "tsunami of back rent, mortgage delinquencies and bankruptcies" coming. back rent
With Thanksgiving coming, Do-Reynoso recommended a self quarantine before you attended a get together. She also said, "outside is always better."
Other advice included shorter gatherings, spacing, mask wearing when you are not eating and a cautious use of alcohol. She says those who have been drinking, are sometimes not social distancing and the "volume goes up" which is a risk factor.
Even Do-Reynoso shared that she had personal plans and has since cancelled them due to the rules.
"Keep and eye on the bigger picture," said Williams about more transmissions of COVID. He cited educational impacts and employment losses.
"We don't have to do this forever. But we do have to do this for a few more months," said Hartmann. She noted a vaccine could be ready at the end of the first quarter of 2021.
Some local schools are advising students who go home for the holidays, to stay home and study remotely from that location during this phase of the pandemic.
Small gatherings are also not all safe. Some of the exposure tracking shows groups as small as five have all been infected by someone with COVID.
Andy Caldwell with the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business said, "people are disheartened" by the current change in rules from the Governor's office.
"Restaurants have one of the highest failure rates" of any business even during good times, said Caldwell. He worries what will happen now with more restrictions now in place.
He urged some push back on the state rules due to information showing most people with the coronavirus fully recover. "If your board had to lay off as many people as the private sector you would be singing a different tune," said Caldwell.
Williams says the county health officer is updating his orders based on the state's decisions and to uphold the law on the local level.
He also pointed out deaths and hospitalizations are not leading indicators, "they are trailing indicators."
One speaker said we should be wearing masks like we wear seatbelts, Williams said, "we should be wearing masks like we are wearing pants."
Adams said "I am getting tired of the attempt to shame me for disagreeing." He had offered a view that has been largely counter to the state's plan since March. "That doesn't mean that we don't care about anybody. It is chilling on disagreement. It's disrespectful. "
"This is the moment to remain vigilant," said Supervisors Chairman Gregg Hart. "I don't think this is extreme or unwarranted." He urged people to stay the course. "The virus isn't going to stop because we are tired," said Hart.
Hartmann is a former marathon runner and referenced the endurance it takes to get to the finish line. In this case it would be the vaccine distribution and lower case loads. She wants to "avoid that big spikes in hospitalizations that we are seeing all over the country."
Watch tonight on KEYT NewsChannel 3, KEYT NewsChannel 12 and KKFX Fox 11 news.
(More details, photos and video and will be added here later today.)