[Editor’s note: Noozhawk’s weekly COVID-19 email newsletter is delivered to subscribers on Wednesdays. You can sign up here. We are republishing the newsletters on the website so more readers have access to them.]
I’m staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue with Noozhawk’s Weekly COVID-19 Briefing.
This newsletter is a way for Noozhawk readers to get important updates in one place.
It’s emailed out every Wednesday, for free, to everyone who subscribes.
Here’s What We Know
» While COVID-19 transmission and testing positivity rates remain higher than Santa Barbara County has ever experienced, Public Health Department director Van Do-Reynoso said Tuesday that it appears the county “may have peaked and (is), hopefully, past the worst of the Omicron surge.”
» Do-Reynoso compared California’s cumulative COVID-19 case and death metrics with some states that have more relaxed policies — Arizona, Florida and Texas — showing that California has a far lower case rate and death rate compared to those three states.
» Since the beginning of the pandemic, the county has reported 74,373 total cases. On Friday, the City of Santa Maria surpassed 20,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases.
» The Public Health Department has requested more than 200,000 at-home COVID-19 test kits from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and has received nearly 166,000 kits as of Tuesday to be distributed via community partners countywide.
» The current surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the contagious Omicron variant has caused a staffing shortage in county hospitals and other health-care settings. Last week, county hospitals were operating with intensive-care units more than 95% full.
» While COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 309% in the past month, Lompoc Valley Medical Center CEO Steve Popkin said Friday that hospitalizations have stabilized, “albeit at a high level.” He said he believed “our peak is near.”
» Due to the current coronavirus surge, UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures is requiring proof of a COVID-19 booster shot for eligible event visitors starting on Feb. 4.
» UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang announced Friday that in-person instruction would resume Monday.
COVID-19 Pandemic vs. Endemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its third year, the county’s public health officer, Dr. Henning Ansorg, outlined what it would take to reach an endemic phase at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
In an endemic phase, the virus would have a constant presence in the population, but would be manageable and not cause enough illness to disrupt normal activities or overwhelm the health-care system, much like the seasonal flu or measles, he said.
While the coronavirus will never be eradicated, Ansorg said that the more people who become immune to the virus through vaccination, the less people will become infected and outbreaks will be limited.
To reach an endemic state, Ansorg said a few things will have to happen: high COVID-19 vaccination and booster rates; readily available anti-viral medications to treat people who fall severely ill from infection; newer vaccines that protect against all variants; easy access to self-testing and isolating when positive; and continuing to wear masks and social distance until the Omicron surge is over.
If all those things occur, Ansorg said the county would be on track to reach an endemic state sometime this year.
Isolation Guidelines for TK-12 Schools
The Santa Barbara County Education Office outlined coronavirus quarantine and isolation guidelines for transitional kindergarten through 12th-grade school settings, which vary depending on vaccination status and where students were exposed to the virus.
COVID-19 Boosters in Skilled Nursing Facilities
While skilled nursing facilities report high COVID-19 vaccination rates overall, they report lower rates for booster shots among residents, who are often more at risk of severe illness.
Among the county’s 14 skilled nursing facilities, the percent of fully vaccinated residents who have received a booster shot ranges from 13.8% to 100%.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the national COVID-19 case rate among skilled nursing residents with a booster shot was 10 times lower than people who are fully vaccinated without a booster and people who are unvaccinated in early January.
Skilled nursing facility staff, who are mandated by the California Department of Public Health to get booster shots by Feb. 1, also report lower rates for booster doses. Eleven facilities in Santa Barbara County had staff booster rates below 50% as of Jan. 9, according to data from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
As of Sunday, eight of the county’s skilled nursing facilities reported active infections among health-care staff.
During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Das Williams asked specifically about efforts to provide booster doses to skilled nursing facilities. Public Health Department director Van Do-Reynoso said specific teams are dedicated to that task, calling it “our No. 1 priority.”
“To the best of my knowledge they have made that round and everybody who wanted or needed to be boosted got it,” she said.
Facilities that have residents and staff who have not received doses can request a visit from the mobile vaccination clinic team.
Santa Barbara County has reported more than 3,300 coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the pandemic first emerged locally in March 2020 and more than 62% of them have been people 50 and older.
Since July 2021, coronavirus-related deaths in Santa Barbara County have been among younger residents more than they have been during the pandemic overall, according to data from the county Public Health Department.
Recently released COVID-19 demographic data from the department shows that 65% of local deaths overall in 2020 and 2021 were among people over the age of 70, but between July 1, 2021 and Jan. 21, 2022, about 45% of deaths were reported in that age group.
Age-related breakdowns show that people over the age of 70 still make up the smallest percentage of COVID-19 cases (6%), the second-largest share of hospitalizations (27%), and the majority of deaths in the county.
COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker
Just over 70% of all eligible Santa Barbara County residents (age 5 and older) were considered fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Monday, and 66% of all residents were considered fully vaccinated, according to the county’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
Of residents ages 65-74, 86% are fully vaccinated, followed by 83% of those 50-64, and 76% of those 30-49.
Roughly 62% of those ages 16-29 are considered fully vaccinated, followed by 61% of those 12-15, and 18% of those 5-11.
The data dashboard is missing vaccination rates for ages 75 and older.
Readers have sent us scores of questions about COVID-19, vaccination, business reopening rules, in-person school, and other pandemic-related issues. Please send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to include them in future newsletters and Noozhawk Q&As.
Watch the Latest County COVID-19 Briefing
The Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors COVID-19 briefing includes updates from Public Health Department director Van Do-Reynoso and the county’s public health officer, Dr. Henning Ansorg.
» Find a COVID-19 vaccine provider near you on the Vaccine Finder search function of https://www.vaccines.gov/search/. You can search for providers by location and by specific vaccine available (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson). You can also find providers on the county website, publichealthsbc.org/vaccine, or at myturn.ca.gov. Some facilities offer walk-ups as well as appointments.
» Text your ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) for a list of vaccine providers in English, or text your ZIP code to VACUNA (822862) for a list in Spanish.
» Find more local pandemic-related information on the Public Health Department website and the county’s COVID-19 recovery page, with resources for business reopening, rental assistance, food assistance and more.
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