After more than a month in the red tier of the state’s tiered COVID-19 reopening framework, Santa Barbara County advanced to the orange tier on Tuesday, which allows higher indoor capacity for businesses and fewer public health restrictions.
The county reported an adjusted case rate of 4.5 daily new cases per 100,000 people, a 1.8% testing positivity rate, and a 1.7% health equity testing positivity rate, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso shared at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
After meeting the low thresholds for the orange tier for two weeks, the county advanced on Tuesday, and a local public health officer order with the new guidelines will go into effect Wednesday morning.
“We are here, we are solidly in the orange tier,” Do-Reynoso said.
Neighboring San Luis Obispo County did not make it to the orange tier following this week’s tier assessment, and is the only Central Coast county still in the red tier.
Under the orange tier, all retail can open at 100% capacity with modifications including face coverings for staff and customers, and indoor dining, museums, zoos, aquariums, and movie theaters can all increase capacity to 50%, and gyms and fitness centers can increase indoor capacity to 25%. Indoor pools at hotels and gyms and other facilities can reopen as well.
The orange tier also comes with the ability to have more people attend private events and gatherings. Social and informal outdoor gatherings can accommodate up to 50 people without a defined guest list or proof of testing or vaccination requirement.
While indoor gatherings are strongly discouraged, they are allowed under the orange tier with 25 people or 25% of the venue’s capacity, whichever is fewer, according to the state.
Private events can have 100 people outdoors, or 300 if they all have negative COVID-19 tests or vaccinations, and indoor private events can have 150 people with proof of negative tests or vaccination, according to the state.
Do-Reynoso defined private events as meetings, conferences, wedding receptions, or similar events where hosts have a defined guest list and ability to verify testing or vaccination requirements. Gatherings are less formal, like a get-together at your home or in your backyard, she said.
Do-Reynoso said she anticipates the new health officer order to be issued on Tuesday night, and the changes will go into effect Wednesday morning at 8 a.m.
The transition to the orange tier comes as the county reports decreasing rates of novel coronavirus cases, testing positivity, and health equity testing positivity.
Health equity testing positivity measures the rate of test results that come back positive for residents in specific zip codes with low Healthy Places Index scores, due to lower healthcare access, dense housing environments, and other social determinants of health.
For the first time, the health equity testing positivity rate is lower than the countywide testing positivity rate, Do-Reynoso said Tuesday.
“This is a really good trend to see that our health equity metric areas are reporting lower testing positivity rates,” she added.
The health equity testing positivity rate fell 37% from the previous rating period last week and the overall testing positivity rate decreased by about 5%, according to Do-Reynoso.
The number of active cases, which counts people who recently tested positive and are still considered infectious, dropped 21% to 145 as of April 15, she said.
The most significant decrease in cases by region came from Santa Maria, which reported a 53% decrease in the number of new cases for the first two weeks of April, according to Do-Reynoso.
The number of new cases is declining everywhere in the county except Goleta and Santa Ynez, which are mostly flat, she said.
Public Health officials reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Tuesday.
The individual who died was between the ages of 50 and 69 and resided in Santa Maria. The county’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll rose to 445.
Between April 5 and April 15, COVID-19 hospitalization and intensive-care unit rates were the lowest reported since the end of October, Do-Reynoso said. Between those two weeks, hospitalizations fell by 63% and COVID-related ICU admissions dropped 71%, she added.
As of Tuesday, there were 14 patients hospitalized by the virus, including two in the ICU.
Of the 13 new cases reported on Tuesday, six were from the Santa Maria Valley and three were from Isla Vista. Santa Barbara reported two new cases, Goleta tallied one, and one case is still pending geographic location.
There are 149 active cases throughout the county.
Update on County Vaccination Efforts
As of Tuesday, 52% of county residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 29% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, according to Do-Reynoso.
County-run vaccination clinics are now scheduling appointments through MyTurn.ca.gov, and there are thousands of appointments available through the county and other providers this week.
More than 7,000 first doses are being distributed this week through the drive-up Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital site (which has a non-vehicle tent available for people without cars), Public Health-run vaccination clinics, and other community providers, Do-Reynoso said.
There are 16,870 second-dose appointments scheduled this week through Cottage Health, Public Health, and other providers. That doesn’t include federal vaccine dose allocations to pharmacy chains (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens) and other providers, she noted.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department recently launched five mobile vaccination clinics across the county, with three based in Santa Maria, one in Lompoc and one in Santa Barbara.
“The goal is to remove any barriers for groups of individuals who are not able to access our community clinics,” Do-Reynoso said.
Each mobile clinic team has eight or nine bilingual public health staff members, Do-Reynoso said, adding that each team will focus on agricultural H-2A housing, community-based mental health care and treatment centers, agricultural worksites, housing facilities, congregate living facilities, churches, and community organizations.
The clinics can accommodate 50 to 250 appointments per clinic, and can repeat that over a period of days or weeks, Do-Reynoso said. They will be open from Thursday to Sunday at different hours depending on the community partners that request the clinic, she added.
Click here for a guide on How to Request a Mobile Vaccination Clinic from Santa Barbara County Public Health, and email email@example.com for more information.
— Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.