SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – As the BA.5 Omicron variant subtype of the COVID-19 virus has caused an increase in cases and hospitalizations nationwide, Santa Barbara County Public Health officials said that there is no need to reinstate a mask mandate locally despite the increase of local cases and hospitalizations.
"In recent weeks the highly infectious Omicron BA.5 subtype has been circulating broadly," said Public Health spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz. "Throughout the pandemic, the COVID-19 virus has mutated frequently, creating new and even more transmissible strains. BA.5 is no exception."
The county has reported an increase in cases and hospitalizations for the past few months, but Ruiz said that the local healthcare system is stable and well equipped to care for more severe cases.
Because the virus is more capable to bypass the immune defense of the body, public health officials are reporting higher infection rates. People who have already recovered from COVID-19 are still able to become infected with the virus again, Ruiz said.
The virus levels in the community have been in the "high" range since July 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but local hospital ICU admissions remain low and local health officials say hospitals are positioned to meet the local demand.
There has been "significantly less" severe illness due to a less virulent version of the virus, medications that are widely available, and partial immunity through vaccination, recovery from infection, or both in Santa Barbara County.
“Treatment for those who contract COVID-19 is widely available and has proven to be a significant tool in the fight against severe cases of the illness,” shared Dr. Henning Ansorg, County Health Officer.