[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, 236 COVID-19 cases were reported. On Tuesday, 123 cases were reported on the Community Data Dashboard, however the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department said 92 of these cases were backlogged from last December — meaning only 144 COVID-19 cases were from this week. The previous week ending March 22 had 180 cases.

» There were three coronavirus-related deaths reported in the county the week ending Tuesday. Since the pandemic emerged in 2020, a total of 672 such deaths have been reported locally.

» As of Tuesday, there were 112 “active” COVID-19 cases, or cases that were considered still infectious. There were also 19 coronavirus-positive people hospitalized in the county.

» Santa Barbara is returning to in-person meetings for the City Council and its boards and commissions starting next week.

Booster Doses

On Tuesday, the Food & Drug Administration announced that it has authorized a second booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for older adults and certain immunocompromised individuals.

“This action will now make a second booster dose of these vaccines available to other populations at higher risk for severe disease, hospitalization and death,” the FDA said Tuesday.

“Emerging evidence suggests that a second booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine improves protection against severe COVID-19 and is not associated with new safety concerns.”

Individuals over the age of 50 or immunocompromised individuals over the age of 12 can receive a second booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least four months after the first booster dose of any authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine was administered.

A second booster dose of the Moderna vaccine can be administered at least four months after the first booster dose to immunocompromised individuals over age 18.

“The agency will continue to evaluate data and information as it becomes available when considering the potential use of a second booster dose in other age groups,” the FDA added.

Federal Funding

A federal agency ended its uninsured program providing free COVID-19 testing and treatment bills for people without health insurance coverage last week, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

The Biden administration has requested another $22.5 billion for ongoing pandemic response, but the funding bill is at an impasse in Congress, the Associated Press reported.

The program had been receiving about 1 million claims per day and paying $500 million weekly in claims.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the fund Congress established to reimburse doctors and other medical providers for COVID-19 care stopped accepting new claims for testing or treatment services for uninsured people.

“The fund will also have to stop accepting new claims for vaccination services on or about April 5,” he said. “This means doctors, nurses, pharmacists, labs and other health-care providers will no longer get payments through the fund for providing these pandemic services to Americans.”

Those policy and funding changes could have broad implications for the local availability and affordability of vaccines, testing and treatment.

In response to the end of some federal reimbursements, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District is changing its COVID-19 testing program, and will have to start charging uninsured community members $55 per test, Interim Superintendent Matthew Beecher said.

COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

As of Monday, Santa Barbara County providers have administered a total of 784,467 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 158,994 booster doses.

Just over 72% of eligible Santa Barbara County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 80.1% of eligible county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The 5-to-11 age group remains the eligible population with the lowest vaccination rate, with 28% of 5-to-11-year-olds fully vaccinated.

The population of individuals age 75 and older also continues to have the highest vaccination rate at 88% fully vaccinated, and the 65-to-74 age group follows closely behind at 87% fully vaccinated.

Nearly 70% of all Santa Barbara County residents — including those under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible to get the shots — have been fully vaccinated.

Find more information about COVID-19 vaccines and local providers on the Public Health Department page here: https://publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.

Got Questions?

Readers have sent us dozens of questions about COVID-19, vaccination, business reopening rules, 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.

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.

Serena Guentz, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at sguentz@noozhawk.com.