The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday reflected on the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the public health director presented plans for winding down the local response.
“Today marks the second anniversary of our first case,” Director Van Do-Reynoso told the supervisors on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and Santa Barbara County confirmed its first positive case a few days later, Do-Reynoso said.
In the past two years, 665 local residents have died of COVID-19, hundreds have been hospitalized, and 84,917 people have been infected and tested positive, according to Public Health.
Supervisor Gregg Hart, who spent a lot of time hosting COVID-19 briefings during 2020, said it was good to reflect on how hard the pandemic has been for everyone.
“I hope we have a robust discussion about what we could have done better,” he said.
Supervisor Bob Nelson said the county will need to remember the impact of the pandemic on children, and be diligent about addressing education gaps, depression and obesity in youth.
“There are going to be some societal clean-up that needs to be take place, so I want to make sure we’re all thinking about that moving forward,” Nelson said.
Board Chair Joan Hartmann, who had been wearing a mask during meetings until Tuesday, said she decided she felt safe to take it off because of the community’s low case rate.
“Take a deep breath, and we’ve got more work ahead,” Hartmann said.
The county is currently reporting a case rate of 4.4 per 100,000 residents (20 new daily cases), a relatively low number of COVID-19-positive people hospitalized, and a low test-positivity rate, which all show low virus transmission in the community.
That’s good news, and the Public Health Department is planning for a new phase in pandemic response, with smaller teams available to respond to specific outbreaks and surges in cases.
Contact tracing investigators are going away, and instead a public phone number will be available for people who test positive to call and get information, Do-Reynoso said.
Public Health and its partners will keep supplies of antigen tests, and continue to offer the mobile vaccination clinic program to certain communities, she added.
The county’s healthcare centers will increase their own testing capacity in anticipation of state-run testing sites closing later this year, including the Santa Maria Fair Park facility.
“We just heard from the state that they will support us with community testing until June 30 this year,” Do-Reynoso said.
The county also plans to “streamline” its COVID-19-related data dashboard and start relying on state and federal data once the local emergency health order is lifted.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato told the supervisors that they will meet in April to talk more about the county’s response and the end of the public health emergency.
Strategies may change in the face of new variants or future surges in cases, but tools will likely stay the same, Do-Reynoso said: vaccines and booster shots, high-quality masks, PCR and antigen testing, and therapeutics including antiviral medication and monoclonal antibodies.
The county and the rest of the United States have seen several “surges” in novel coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations and deaths in the past two years, with the local numbers seen in the graph below.
The local hospitalizations peaked about two weeks after a peak in case rates, Do-Reynoso said.
The number of daily COVID-19 vaccinations peaked in March and April 2021, but hundreds of people continue to get vaccinated each week.
Community groups in Santa Maria, Guadalupe in Cuyama were credited with connecting more people to vaccinations in recent months.
“We’re seeing significant traction in these ZIP codes with vaccination rates increasing,” Do-Reynoso said.
As of this week, 80% of eligible county residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 72% of residents are fully vaccinated. When counting the rate among all residents, including the children under 5 who are not yet eligible for vaccination, the county has a 67.7% vaccination rate.