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Santa Barbara - South County

Infectious Disease expert: ‘Fearful that our numbers have worsened so much’

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Just hours before Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a month-long partial curfew Thursday afternoon for California counties in the Purple Tier, an Infectious Disease (ID) expert in Santa Barbara put out a public appeal to the local community.

"Over the past two weeks I have just become so very worried about what is ahead," said Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons.

The Cottage Health ID expert has spent the past nine months in the COVID trenches, monitoring worldwide cases and researching coronavirus data while helping care for COVID-19 patients from throughout Santa Barbara County. 

Fitzgibbons said she is especially concerned about a substantial change in the local case count in recent days.

"The problem is, as we enter Thanksgiving week, we now have this virus widespread throughout the community and so decisions we make next week are literally going to determine what our curve in Santa Barbara looks like through December."

From her medical perspective, things do not look good.

"There are cases everywhere," said Fitzgibbons. "Yesterday we had 91 new cases diagnosed across our county. And this was spread really North County, South County, Isla Vista, Santa Barbara City. Really, every corner of our community."

Fitzgibbons said Summertime COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County were downright mild compared to what potentially lies ahead -- "apples and oranges." She said the choices we make now -- the week before Thanksgiving -- will reflect numbers deeper into the Holiday season through December. 

"If we have elderly relatives, if we have people in our family that are at higher risk for developing severe or even life threatening COVID, we have to take that into account as we're making decisions."

She also fears local numbers have worsened to the point that our hospitals and death rates will soon be impacted. 

"But we have to remember that it's going to take perhaps weeks for us to see the true effect," Fitzgibbons warned.

Meantime, the ID expert sees two potential vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna as what she calls "an exit strategy" from the pandemic.

"The number of people that still haven't had this virus are still vulnerable is huge."

Both potential COVID vaccines, now at the end of their final stages of testing, are based on a new technology, mRNA. It essentially works from a protein-creating "recipe" utilizing the immune response of the person injected.

Fitzgibbons said initial safety data for both, which was complied over a minimum of two months, is ready to be looked at. 

Until then, Fitzgibbons encourages everyone in our community to give thanks this season with fewer people at the table, meaning those who share your household. And, look forward to next year.

"Promising that 2021 is going to look much more similar to Thanksgiving in the past."

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.

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