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COVID-19 cases still a concern as Santa Barbara County stays in the ‘Red Tier’

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There's been a clear change in the level of COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County and, while improving, the county is staying in the same Red or 'substantial tier' in the state's reopening plan.

"We have some work ahead of us," said Santa Barbara County Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso at Tuesday's Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Even though in recent weeks the overall daily numbers are going down, there are many areas where advisories are still going out.

"We are seeing the pandemic shifting towards young unvaccinated people," said Do-Reynoso. The numbers are higher among college or university students.

Do-Reynoso said the Latinos population are still in the majority of cases.

The county has not been able to get out of the Red Tier where it has been since March 16, and she described the current trend as "upward in the wrong direction."

Testing is still widely available throughout the community, she said, with a community testing bus at East Beach that is moving to Ryan Park in Lompoc next week.

Vaccinations are ramping up with thousands of doses going into arms throughout the county each week. In the last few weeks, additional sites have opened including a very large vaccine clinic at the Hilton Beachfront Resort in Santa Barbara.

For those who have had COVID, a vaccine is still recommended. Even just one dose of the vaccine can "supercharge your antibodies" Do-Reynoso said.

She says the county has now allowed those 16 and older to get their vaccinations, but noted that only Pfizer has the appropriate vaccine for the younger people. The county currently has several sites with Pfizer available.

The county health department will be using the My Turn website for appointments starting April 16.

Do-Reynoso said public gathering limits will be increased based on the latest case numbers, changes in tier guidelines and vaccinations. Details will be posted on the county's website.

Case rate increases in other areas of the country, such as Michigan, has the health department "sounding the alarm." Do-Reynoso says the county needs to continue its strict rules and work towards lowering its position to the orange tier.

Supervisor Das Williams asked "what's going on," when he realized there are more appointment slots available now but a demand at about 50-percent.

The health department is increasing its outreach and adding "strike teams" to go into homes and living areas where there are people, particularly the elderly, that are not getting out to the clinics.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino says he knows Santa Maria residents who went to San Luis Obispo County to get their shots when "we were a week or two behind." He wants people to be more "activated," but said it was "baffling" to him why the appointments were not taken immediately.

The health department says it is also overbooking in some areas where there is a high demand due to no-shows.

Supervisor Williams raised concerns about the minority population missing out on vaccination appointments.

"Brown people in the north county have been left behind," he said. He urged continued leadership to increase outreach and availability.

Do-Reynoso said her latest data shows 59 percent of the latest appointments are in the Santa Maria or north county areas such as Orcutt, Lompoc and Guadalupe. The main site for shots in that region is at Allan Hancock College. That site will remain in place through Sunday, but all appointments have already been filled.

Supervisor Bob Nelson says the county needs to be a large "safety net" for the north county residents and "leave no stone unturned."

With the increasing variants threatening the public, Supervisor Gregg Hart urged the public to get their shots now, especially with the availability increasing, to battle the virus spread in its original or other form.

For more information visit the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department's website.

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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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