People get in line at the county-run vaccination site at Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Tuesday afternoon. This and other Public Health Department sites are now open to everyone 16 and older, or 18 and older, depending on the COVID-19 vaccine available.
People get in line at the county-run vaccination site at Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Tuesday afternoon. This and other Public Health Department sites are now open to everyone 16 and older, or 18 and older, depending on the COVID-19 vaccine available.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

With slight increases in the rate of new novel coronavirus cases and test positivity rate, Santa Barbara County remains in the substantial red tier of the state’s tiered coronavirus framework, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso shared at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Even though we only have a little over a week of increasing cases in our county, we are sounding the alarm because this is a trend in the wrong way,” Do-Reynoso said. “We need to continue our safety practices so we can decrease our cases and move toward the orange tier.”

In the latest tier assignment, Santa Barbara County reported an adjusted 6.8 daily case rate, a 2.7% testing positivity rate, and a 5.1% health equity testing positivity rate. All three metrics increased since the previous tier assessment.

“We are thinking that the uptick may be the result of reopening,” Do-Reynoso said. “We are seeing the pandemic shift nationally and statewide toward young, unvaccinated people who are more mobile and may be socializing more.”

The county is experiencing a higher-than-average number of cases among 20-somethings and young adults who identify as college or university students, according to Do-Reynoso.

There is also a persistent increasing proportion of cases in those who work in the clerical or management industry, which is how the county classifies most office workers, and white county residents, Do-Reynoso said.

On Tuesday, California reached its second vaccine equity goal of distributing 4 million doses to hard-hit communities, defined by 400 specific ZIP codes statewide, and will now make it easier for counties to advance to less restrictive tiers and reopen additional businesses. 

“Unfortunately, we are still in the red tier and we have been since March 16,” Do-Reynoso said. “We have not met the orange tier criteria at this time, even though it has been widened.”

While the county’s testing positivity rate and health equity testing positivity rate both meet the orange tier criteria, the adjusted case rate of 6.8 falls above the widened metrics of 6 cases per day per 100,000 population. The county needs to meet all three of the tier metrics for two consecutive weeks before advancing to the orange tier.

“We do have some work ahead of us,” Do-Reynoso said.

As of Tuesday, there have been 33,381 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout the county and 185 are still considered to be infectious.

State Allows Larger Gatherings and Plans to Eliminate Color-Coded Tier System in June

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the color-coded tier system will be eliminated in June, with the assumption that case rates continue to decrease and vaccinations increase statewide.

“We can confidently say by June 15 we can open up business as usual,” with mask-wearing and “ongoing vigilance,” he said.

The tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy has been in place since August 2020, and assigns restrictions based on each county’s novel coronavirus case rate and testing positivity rate.

Until then, the tier system and its restrictions will remain in place.

Last week, the state updated guidance for gatherings, allowing larger groups than the statewide public health orders have so far.

Santa Barbara County remains in the red tier of the statewide Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework for reopening.

Santa Barbara County remains in the red tier of the statewide Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework for reopening.  (State of California photo)

Under the red tier and starting April 15, social and informal outdoor gatherings are allowed with a capacity of 25 people and do not require a defined guest list or proof of testing and vaccination, Do-Reynoso said. 

Indoor gatherings are still strongly discouraged, but are allowed with a maximum capacity of 25 people in settings where capacity limits exist, or up to three households or 10 people where capacity limits do not exist, she added. No food is allowed at these gatherings.

Also effective April 15, all live event and performance venues are allowed to operate at a 25% maximum capacity if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination, Do-Reynoso said. Venues with capacity limits up to 1,500 people are allowed to operate at a maximum 10% capacity or 100 people, and venues with a capacity above 1,500 are allowed to operate at a 20% capacity if all guests are tested and show proof of full vaccination, according to Do-Reynoso.

Starting April 15, private events are allowed with an outdoor maximum capacity of 50 people under the red tier, or a capacity of 200 if all guests are tested or provide proof of full vaccination. Private indoor events can host 100 people if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination, according to Do-Reynoso.

“We are satisfied with the diligence and thoroughness of what’s being proposed,” Do-Reynoso said. “We are confident with the guidance issued by the state and we are ready to revise our health officer order to reflect the new state guidance.”

Santa Barbara County Vaccination Status

As of Monday, 17.7% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the county’s Community Data Dashboard.

Through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration partnership, the county received 14,760 doses of the vaccine this week to allocate to the county’s five healthcare centers, Do-Reynoso said.

“It is with this allocation that we are able to support our large community vaccination sites,” she added.

The Public Health Department was able to administer 8,314 first doses to community residents through the Lompoc vaccination clinic last week, Do-Reynoso said, and hopes to provide 9,150 doses at the Allan Hancock College clinic this week. 

There are an additional 7,530 vaccine appointments available at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort (formerly the Fess Parker Hotel) for the community vaccination clinic taking place next week, according to Do-Reynoso. Appointments will be posted on the county website here when available.

In addition to the federal allocation, the Public Health Department received 4,900 vaccine doses this week, Do-Reynoso said, adding that the department received a late allocation of 500 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Due to the large volume of vaccine availability, Public Health determined that everyone 16 and older is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at county-run clinics that offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Do-Reynoso said, adding that the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only approved for those 18 and older.

Those 16 and older can now book vaccination appointments at Santa Barbara County community clinics, Lompoc Valley Medical Center clinics, or other clinics beginning April 15 or as soon as next Monday, Do-Reynoso said.

The state has a firm deadline to complete the transition to the centralized COVID-19 vaccine appointment system, MyTurn, Do-Reynoso said. The new system should be fully implemented on April 15, and the first clinic in Santa Barbara County will be using MyTurn on April 16, according to Do-Reynoso.

Future clinics for first doses or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be scheduled through MyTurn.

The state recently modified the MyTurn application to give the county the ability to upload a spreadsheet of appointments for walk-up clinics, Do-Reynoso said, adding that the feature should be live by the end of the month.

“This feature will be an amazing tool for us when we have our mobile clinics moving to serve unique neighborhoods and populations in our community,” Do-Reynoso said.

The Public Health Department recommends that residents get vaccinated even if they already tested positive for the virus.

“Recent studies indicate that even just one dose of the vaccine can supercharge antibodies even if you have recovered from COVID-19,” Do-Reynoso said. “The vaccine will offer you a better protection against infections from the variants that are now circulating.

“Bottom line, getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.