[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.]

Welcome to Noozhawk’s Weekly COVID-19 Briefing.

I’m Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz with the latest COVID-19 news in Santa Barbara County.

This newsletter is a way for Noozhawk readers to get important updates in one place.

It is emailed out every Wednesday, for free, to everyone who subscribes.

Here’s What We Know 

» In the week ending Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 7,608 new positive COVID-19 cases and eight coronavirus-related deaths. These are slight increases from the previous week, which had 7,263 cases and five deaths.

» Hospitalizations in Santa Barbara County have increased with 135 as of Tuesday, including 12 coronavirus-positive patients in intensive-care units. Ten of those ICU patients were on ventilators. A week prior, Jan. 11, there were 94 hospitalizations and 10 ICU patients. 

» According to the Community Data Dashboard, ICU availability throughout the county is in the “red zone” as of Tuesday, with 4.8% of staffed ICU beds available. Patients with COVID-19 account for about 20% of the occupied ICU beds.

» The number of countywide staffed ICU beds has dropped from the 70s and 80s, where it was for most of the pandemic, to 62 due to hospital staffing.

» On Jan. 13, the Santa Barbara Unified School District announced that its high schools could restart winter sports, after indoor and outdoor sports were paused due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

» According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, there have been a total of 221 COVID-19 cases associated with the latest outbreak at the Main Jail that began on Dec. 8, with 26 cases currently active.

Santa Barbara County has seen high demand for at-home COVID-19 tests, like these, and the county Public Health Department expects to start getting 80,000 test kits a week.

Santa Barbara County has seen high demand for at-home COVID-19 tests, like these, and the county Public Health Department expects to start getting 80,000 test kits a week.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

» The federal government’s website for ordering free at-home COVID-19 tests launched Tuesday. The simple online form requires a name and a residential address. Each order includes four tests that will be mailed for free beginning in late January. There is a limit of one order per address.

» Need to find a vaccine provider or a COVID-19 test? Did you test positive and need to know the rules for isolating? Click here for Noozhawk’s information page with frequently asked questions and Santa Barbara County-specific public health information.

Lompoc Federal Prison Cases

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are currently 138 active COVID-19 cases — 124 inmates and 14 staff members — between Lompoc’s Federal Correctional Institution and the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, as of Tuesday.

The county’s Community Data Dashboard, however, has only reported 26 cases at the Lompoc Federal Prison complex since Jan. 10, and shows that there are currently only nine active cases.

COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

In November, and again in December, more than 10,000 Santa Barbara County residents received their first COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Nearly 70% of eligible Santa Barbara County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and 77.9% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

According to the county Public Health Department, the 65-to-74 age group has a vaccination rate of 86%, followed by the 50-to-64 age group at 83%, and the 30-to-49 age group at 75%.

About 62% of those ages 16 to 29 are fully vaccinated, as well as 60% of those ages 12 to 15. 

In the 5-to-11 age group, 17% are fully vaccinated.

The county dashboard does not currently display vaccination rate information for the 75-plus age group, but it was previously reported to be more than 80%.

Additionally, 65.6% of all county residents — including those under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine — have been fully vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, Santa Barbara County providers have administered 734,043 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 129,150 booster shots.

Current Cases, Hospitalizations

Santa Barbara County reported nearly 4,000 coronavirus cases for the four days ending Tuesday and a growing number of local hospital patients with COVID-19.

The number of intensive-care unit patients with COVID-19 has stayed near 10 for the past two months. The number of coronavirus-positive ICU patients on ventilators doubled between Friday (five people) and Tuesday (10 people). 

Public health and medical professionals have said the coronavirus’ Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease overall than the Delta variant, but the local surge in cases could still cause a lot of sickness and overwhelm local hospitals.

If you multiply a small percentage by a very large number, “you still come up with a scenario where hospitals are strained, and not just to take care of COVID-19 patients but also to take care of other diseases,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, said last week.

People at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 include those who are not vaccinated, those who are over the age of 65, those who are immunocompromised, and people with certain medical conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 vaccines can lower the risk of getting and spreading the coronavirus and can help prevent serious illness and death, according to the CDC. For those who have had COVID-19, the CDC recommends the vaccines for added protection.

Got Questions?

Readers have sent us scores of questions about COVID-19, vaccination, in-person school, and other pandemic-related issues. Please send yours to news@noozhawk.com and we’ll try to include them in future newsletters and Noozhawk Q&As.

Watch the Latest County COVID-19 Briefing

The Jan. 11 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting includes COVID-19 updates from Public Health Department director Van Do-Reynoso.

Click here to watch it on the county’s YouTube page.

Reader Resources

» 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. 

» There are free COVID-19 testing facilities around the county.

» 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.

» Click here for Noozhawk’s complete Coronavirus Crisis coverage.

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Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at sguentz@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.