County Supervisors Debate Church Reopening as Data Shows COVID-19 Spikes in Offices
By edhat staff
New data shows most of the local COVID-19 spikes are due to office spaces as County Supervisors debate closing indoor activities for places of worship.
During Tuesday's Board of Supervisor's meeting, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso stated contact tracing for the first week of November showed a sharp decline in COVID-19 positive cases within the agricultural community and a drastic increase in clerical/management work.
From March to November, the agricultural industry has consistently been an occupation with a high percentage of disease transmission, but the latest data shows infections within offices are much higher, even outpacing healthcare workers.
Chart showing occupations of COVID-19 positive cases from November 1 through 7.
Do-Reynoso stated her department feels this increase is due to a combination of people telecommuting less and growing comfortable with co-workers and colleagues where they lessen mask-wearing, physical distancing, and disinfecting of workstations.
Alternatively, the decrease in agricultural cases was credited to increased community partnerships and outreach programs.
For the first week of November, the highest infected occupations were office jobs followed by college students, teenagers, and retired/unemployed people. When asked why the high number of retirees and unemployed, Do-Reynoso stated it may be due to discretionary time on their hands.
COVID-19 positive cases by occupation from Nov 1-7 compared to the full pandemic since March
The Church Debate
While discussing the openings and closing of businesses in the purple tier, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino took issue with places of worship being required to close indoor operations while businesses like Costco and Walmart were allowed to remain open.
Do-Reynoso stated that she understood the state's unease with faith centers is the context of how people gather indoors. Compared to a shopping run, church services generally take longer than 15 minutes and can be several hours, there's usually singing which can spread particles, and a deeper familiarity with people that leads to a lack of social distancing or face coverings, she said.
There have also been published large-scale outbreaks from church events throughout the state and nation, and Santa Barbara County's first set of cluster cases was due to an indoor church event, said Do-Reynoso.
Lavagnino persisted and proposed the county write a letter urging the Governor to reconsider places of worship to not be singled out and given the same latitude that Costco and Walmart have within the purple tier.
Supervisor Peter Adam agreed and called the majority of these rules draconian while Supervisor Das Williams hopped on board stating he cannot condone a framework that gives more rights to commercial activities than places of worship.
Chair of the Board, Supervisor Gregg Hart, jumped in and urged supervisors to avoid such a divisive approach and remain respectful of each other's individual views and approaches to the pandemic.
"We will find ourselves very quickly split and divided and sending letters and posturing on public health matters during what could be the worst phase of this pandemic and I would urge my colleagues to think very carefully about the implications of this decision today," said Hart.
Lavagnino countered by saying the board has already done that by voting on mask mandates. "Let's be honest, Governor Newsom is not sitting on the edge of his chair waiting to hear what Supervisor Lavagnino thinks about this."
"Then why are you proposing this motion?" asked Hart.
"Because I think it's a symbolic measure of telling people that we respect their ability to go out and worship," said Lavagnino who stated he can't see church services being a superspreader event.
In the end, the motion passed 3-2 with only Supervisors Hart and Joan Hartmann voting against it.
Increased Numbers and a Purple Tier
Similar to trends within the state and nation, Santa Barbara County saw a 148% increase in active COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, said Do-Reynoso.
Every area within the county saw a sharp increase in active cases except for Isla Vista that went from 37 active cases to 13 and Lompoc that went from 25 to 20.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued the county a 7.1 adjusted case rate (up from 4.3 last week) and a 2.7 positivity rate (up from 1.8).
Map of California tier assignments on November 10 (left) and November 16 (right).
Throughout the state, 40 counties moved back into more restrictive tiers with only 18 counties staying the same. There are 41 counties in the most restrictive purple tier, 11 in the red tier, 4 in the orange, and 2 in the yellow.
On Sunday, CDPH noted the average 6,000 daily COVID-19 cases had increased to 11,000 daily cases within just a few days. Governor Newsom announced Monday he is pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy resulting in 94.1 percent of California’s population in the most restrictive tier.
It's been nearly eight weeks since Santa Barbara County was in the purple tier which requires the closure of most indoor operations. Retail can remain open indoors but at only 25% capacity where all dining, gyms, and theatres must operate outdoor only.
Do-Reynoso stated there may be additional guidelines from the state that could include a 10:00 p.m. curfew advisory requiring businesses to close at a certain time and revisions to restaurants and capacity at essential businesses.
School Operations & Vaccine Planning
Do-Reynoso confirmed this emergency brake pulled by the Governor does not alter state guidelines governing school reopenings.
Schools that are already opened may remain open as long as they follow CDPH guidance. Schools who have not reopened may provide in-person instruction under the elementary school waiver process, or through small cohorts. Otherwise, schools may not reopen for in-person instruction until the county has remained in the substantial red tier for two weeks.
The county has a plan developed with CDPH and local partners on how to prepare and administer a COVID-19 vaccine.
There is currently a workgroup with members who include hospitals/clinics, Public Health Department, fire agencies, community health centers, the county joint infomation center, UCSB, residential care facilities, pharmacies, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and more.
The objective is to coordinate and share information between Public Health and partners on how to provide vaccinations as well as campaigns to get accurate and timely information to the public.
A presentation on this group's progress will take place at the Board of Supervisors meeting on December 8.