The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be loosening its grip on Santa Barbara County.
The A-list of county officials, including Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart, health officer Dr. Henning Ansorg and health director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, on Friday painted a rosy picture of the state of the pandemic and the sudden drop in cases.
“We can finally say that declining numbers that we were hoping to see are real and substantial,” Hart said. “All the hard work we have been doing together as a community to reduce the virus from spreading has been working. This is a well-deserved moment to acknowledge this very important achievement.”
He also offered words of caution: “This is not the time to get complacent.”
The numbers of actives cases have dropped so much that elementary school districts are now eligible to apply for a waiver to offer in-person learning again.
Donna Lewis, superintendent of the Goleta Union School District, told Noozhawk on Friday that the district would hold a public meeting next week to discuss whether to apply for the waiver. The Santa Barbara Unified School District plans to do the same.
In May, the county experienced a drop in cases that led to Gov. Gavin Newsom allowing businesses to reopen, but the county experienced a second surge. This time is different, Hart said.
“People are wearing masks to an increasing degree all the time, and I think that’s exactly why we have seen the cases decline over the past three weeks,” he said.
On July 24, there were 124 new positive cases of COVID-19. In the past seven days, the county has averaged 61 cases per day.
In Santa Maria, once a hotspot, cases have dropped 39 percent in the past two weeks. Cases have dropped 25 percent in Lompoc and 30 percent in Santa Barbara during that period.
Hart said the path to getting off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list is “clearly before us.” In order for the county to be removed from the state’s watch list, it must have fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people in the county. Right now, the county is at 138.7 cases per 100,000.
Still, the county Public Health Department on Friday reported 81 new cases and 254 existing cases that are considered infectious. Do-Reynoso said 54 people in the county were hospitalized, with 20 in intensive-care units. The total number of people who have contracted COVID-19 in the county is 7,653, according to Do-Reynoso.
The county also reported three more COVID-19 deaths, all between ages 50 and 69 with underlying health conditions and residents in Santa Maria.
In addition, Isla Vista has seen a recent increase in cases. The unincorporated area near UCSB has 10 active cases, and 135 people overall have tested positive.
The county, UCSB and the Isla Vista Community Services District are working with residents and community organizations to produce “extensive social media outreach” to educate young people about the importance of social distancing, avoiding social gatherings and wearing face coverings in public.
“Isla Vista residents are being encouraged to speak with their roommates about how they can keep their households safe,” Do-Reynoso said.
Ansorg said young people need to recognize that COVID-19 affects them, too.
“Across the state and country, we are seeing a very concerning development of more coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in the younger age groups,” Ansorg said. “Over 40 percent of all hospitalizations in the county currently are of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. COVID is definitely no longer a disease of just old people.”
He encouraged young people to cooperate.
“Understand that young age does not protect you from possibly experiencing a very severe case of COVID if infected,” Ansorg said, “and you will contribute to extensive virus spread even as an aysmpotomatic carrier.”