Santa Barbara County health experts this week shined a light on the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, saying unvaccinated people remain the most at risk for severe disease.

“The current vaccines in the United States are providing very good protection against severe disease and hospitalizations, and we are hearing reports of the same from around the world,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, chair of infectious diseases at Cottage Health, said Thursday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are authorized in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 60% of eligible Santa Barbara County residents (those age 12 or older) were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to county data.

On Thursday, Fitzgibbons and UC Santa Barbara virology professor Carolina Arias presented the latest COVID-19 information in a video posted on Cottage Health’s YouTube channel. The video is available in English and Spanish. 

They’ve been working together on variant sample sequencing for the past several months, Fitzgibbons said. 

Scroll down to view the presentation.

Since April, the Delta variant has “quickly” become the most common cause of COVID-19 cases worldwide, and it is now the most common cause of the virus in the United States and in California, according to Fitzgibbons.

The Delta variant is the “most infectious” of any variant seen so far in the pandemic, she said.

During the past four weeks, Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 case counts have been lower than the number of new cases reported in December, January and February, Fitzgibbons said. However, the county is experiencing a “subtle increase” of cases reported to the Public Health Department.

“We anticipate that with Delta continuing to be very infectious and very prevalent, it’s most likely that these case count numbers will, unfortunately, continue to tick up,” Fitzgibbons said.

She later added: “The Delta variant is very likely to cause a surge in cases locally, and we may already be seeing that subtle increase, but that approaching ‘Delta surge’ is going to look very different than any other prior surges.”

The most common variant during the county’s winter surge in COVID-19 positive cases was the West Coast variant, which is no longer listed as a variant of concern, Fitzgibbons said. 

The Delta variant was first discovered in the United States in March, according to the CDC. The Delta variant of the coronavirus was initially identified in India, and was the dominant variant during that country’s devastating surge in April and May, according to Fitzgibbons.

As of last Saturday, more than 51% of COVID-19 cases in the United States stemmed from the Delta variant, according to Fitzgibbons’ presentation.

Public Health officials are studying whether the Delta variant causes more severe disease, or less severe, Fitzgibbons said Thursday.

She noted that COVID-19 vaccine efficiency figures are “very hard” to interpret, with reports often coming from different countries, as well as each report using different scientific approaches, and each population is slightly different. 

“Most cases of severe COVID-19 due to the Delta variant that are requiring hospitalization are now happening in unvaccinated and immunocompromised people,” Fitzgibbons said.

Fitzgibbons noted that the B.1.351 coronavirus variant — first discovered in South Africa — “continues to perform quite poorly against several of our current vaccines, but the good news is we don’t have that variant circulating in our community.”

Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 Status Report

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials reported 30 new positive cases of COVID-19 between Wednesday and Friday, and one additional death.

The person who died lived in the North County unincorporated areas, was in the 50-69 age group and had underlying medical conditions, but did not live in a congregate-living facility, according to officials

The county has confirmed 34,719 COVID-19 cases since the first positive case was reported in March 2020. The latest fatality brings the county’s COVID-19-related death toll to 458 people.

The county Public Health Department announced the additional death on Friday.

Of the new cases reported during the last three days, 14 were recorded on Wednesday, 13 on Thursday and three on Friday.

There were eight COVID-19 patients recovering in local hospitals on Friday. Of those, three were being treated in intensive-care units, a number that has remained unchanged for the past three days.

There were 46 active cases of the virus in the county on Friday, a decrease of seven from the previous day.

There were nearly 60 new positive COVID-19 cases reported in the past seven days in the county, for an average of slightly more than eight cases per day. In the previous seven days, the county logged about 65 new cases, an average of about slightly more than nine cases per day.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

YouTube video

The presentation in Spanish:

YouTube video

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.