In a screenshot, Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso leads Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

Santa Barbara County’s coronavirus case rate is inching in the wrong direction, public health officials said Friday.

“It looks like the small uptick may be a result of reopening activities,” county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said during the weekly press briefing. “We are seeing the pandemic is shifting towards younger and unvaccinated people who may be expanding on their social activities.”

Do-Reynoso said the data show a “higher than average increase (in COVID-19 cases) among 20-year-olds. In terms of occupation, it looks like increases in college and university students, as well as continued proportion of clerical management workers.”

Since January, the county’s COVID-19 case rate has “significantly declined,” Do-Reynoso said, but the county’s case numbers have not decreased in the past week.

“Our adjusted case rate recently increased,” Do-Reynoso said. “If this trend continues, we will not be eligible to move to the orange tier. We must all be extra cautious at this time, and that means diligently practicing the masking, social distancing and limit gatherings.”

Santa Barbara County has remained in the second-most restrictive red tier of the state reopening system since March 16.

The county can officially enter the less-restrictive orange tier once it meets all of the orange tier criteria for two consecutive weeks.

There have been just fewer than 37 cases a day during the past seven days, a more than 13% increase from the previous week, when the county was averaging about 32.4 cases a day, according to data tracking by Noozhawk.

The county’s case rate must decrease to progress into the orange tier, Do-Reynoso said.

The county’s adjusted case rate needs to fall below four daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents to qualify for the orange tier.

The vaccine rollout is progressing in Santa Barbara County, and more people are getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Santa Barbara County has received 194,360 COVID-19 doses to date, according to Do-Reynoso.

Of those, the Public Health Department reported that the county has vaccinated more than 101,500 people with at least one dose and more than 54,600 are fully vaccinated with second doses, as well as more than 4,700 people with Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

The county reported that more than 82% of its vaccine doses were administered into the arms of Santa Barbara County residents, and the remaining 17.1% will go toward upcoming vaccine appointments, Do-Reynoso said.

Santa Barbara County is vaccinating residents age 50 or older, as well as people with high-risk medical conditions and some categories of workers.

COVID-19 vaccine appointments are being offered at hospitals, pharmacies, clinics and Public Health Department-run sites.

Click here to find out where to look for appointments in Santa Barbara County

“The best vaccine is the one available to you right now,” Do-Reynoso said.

Everyone age 16 or older will become eligible to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 15.

“However, we will begin on April 12 making it available to community members 16-plus at only our Santa Barbara County community vaccination clinics,” Do-Reynoso said.

About 50% of the county’s 65-plus population has been vaccinated for COVID-19, and about 20% of the county’s 16-plus population has been vaccinated, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said Friday.

“The vaccines continue to prove to be very safe and effective,” Ansorg said.

The California Department of Public Health on Friday released changes to the state’s COVID-19 reopening tier framework, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, allowing additional activities to resume with modifications. 

The updates include gatherings, private events or meetings such as receptions or conferences, and indoor live events and performances, according to the state.

The updates will take effect April 15, and the tier color determines what additional activities will resume. Click here for the complete news release from the state.

Santa Barbara County’s New COVID-19 Status Report

Meanwhile, public health officials on Friday reported that one more Santa Barbara County resident has died of COVID-19, along with 53 new positive cases.

The person who died was in the 50-69 age group, resided in the unincorporated area of Goleta and had underlying conditions, according to Public Health. The COVID-19-related death was not connected with an outbreak at a congregate care facility.

Santa Barbara County’s case total rose to 33,270 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, and the county’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 440 to date.

The county reports a fatality after a death certificate is processed listing COVID-19 as a cause or a significant condition, according to Public Health.

The process can take several days and up to two months to finalize if pending verification by the county Coroner’s Bureau, a division of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

There were 26 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in local hospitals as of Friday, including 10 coronavirus-positive patients requiring treatment in hospital intensive-care units.

Of Friday’s new positive cases, 18 were from the Santa Maria Valley, 12 from the Lompoc Valley, 11 from Santa Barbara, six from the Goleta Valley, and two each from Isla Vista and the Montecito-Summerland-Carpinteria area.

One new case was reported in the Santa Ynez Valley, and one new case was pending geographic location.

American Rescue Plan Funding Helps Central Coast Community Health Centers Expand Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

Rep. Salud Carbajal this week announced that three local community health centers will receive a total of $11.6 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand their COVID-19 vaccination and treatment operations. The resources are part of the federal American Rescue Plan’s investments to expand access to vaccines in underserved communities.

The Central Coast-based federal community health centers receiving funds include Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and the American Indian Health and Services.

“Our community health centers have been key partners in keeping our community safe and healthy during the pandemic,” Carbajal said in a statement. “I was proud to cast my vote for the American Rescue Plan, which makes crucial investments to expand vaccine distribution. I’m glad to see over $11 million will be used to enhance our ability to get vaccines into the arms of Central Coast residents as quickly, equitably and effectively as possible.”

President Joe Biden’s administration announced last week that it will make a $6 billion investment in community health centers, using American Rescue Plan funds, to expand access to vaccines in underserved communities, according to Carbajal’s office. 

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration will provide funding beginning in April to nearly 1,400 centers across the nation. 

Carbajal’s office said the health centers can use the money to expand COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment for vulnerable populations; deliver preventive and primary health care services to people who are at higher risk for the virus; and expand health centers’ operational capacity during the pandemic and beyond, including modifying and improving physical infrastructure, as well as adding mobile units.

» Click here for a complete list of community health centers receiving funding through the American Rescue Plan.

» Click here to read stories in Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section.

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