Santa Barbara County’s rate of new novel coronavirus cases has dropped to the level of late December, at the start of the Omicron variant surge, according to the Public Health Department.

State and county public health officials predict the numbers of new infections and people hospitalized with COVID-19 will keep declining,

Public Health reported 157 new positive cases on Wednesday, and said the number of COVID-19-positive people in local hospitals was 78 people.

The county reported the COVID-19-related death of a Santa Barbara resident on Wednesday who was 70 years old or older.

This is the 638th death of a county resident from COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

The county’s case rate has been declining since mid-January, according to Public Health data.

The county’s case rate has been declining since mid-January, according to Public Health data.  (Santa Barbara County Public Health Department photo)

The city of Goleta is reopening its City Hall and library branches to the public after closures during the winter surge in Omicron novel coronavirus cases.

City Hall’s reception desk, Building and Safety Counter, and Planning and Zoning Counter are reopening on Tuesday next week.

The Goleta, Buellton and Solvang library branches are also reopening for regular hours of operation next week, starting Tuesday. They’ve been closed to in-person services since Jan. 7.

County Public Health ‘Strongly Recommends’ People Continue Wearing Masks Indoors in Public

The county’s mask mandate changed this week, with fully vaccinated people no longer required to wear masks in all indoor, public spaces.

“There are still lots of people getting sick, and I strongly recommend you continue to wear a self-protective, high-quality mask in all public indoor settings,” Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

People may wonder, he said, why the county decided to lift the universal mask mandate when the state did.

The Omicron variant has caused fewer infected people to become severely ill and hospitalized, and there is a rapid decline in new infections, Ansorg said.

“Secondly, more and more individuals have at least partial immunity either by vaccination or by previous infection which makes everything safer. Thirdly, we cannot stay in an emergency mode indefinitely. We now can safely transition to a more sustainable way of dealing with COVID,” he told the supervisors.

More than half of the county’s 83,252 total cases have been reported in the past two months. The actual number of recent infections undoubtedly is higher since Public Health does not collect or report the results from positive at-home tests. 

A recent study published by the CDC demonstrates that wearing a high-quality mask consistently in public indoor settings “reduces the risk for catching COVID significantly,” Ansorg said.

A respirator-type mask like N95s or KN95s provide the best protection, and surgical masks and cloth face masks provide much better protection than wearing no mask, according to the CDC data.

The virus is airborne and small particles can be suspended in the air “much like cigarette smoke,” Ansorg said, so being in crowded, indoor spaces with bad ventilation can increase the risk for infection.

Scroll down to view the presentation slides from the Public Health briefing to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Santa Barbara County Public Health COVID-19 Briefing Feb. 15, 2022 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.