Public Health Aims to Reopen Elementary Schools
By edhat staff
Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (PHD) officials are aiming to reopen elementary schools and discussed sending a letter to the state during Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.
The current California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance states a county must have 25 new COVID-19 cases or lower per 100,000 population before schools can reopen. Santa Barbara County currently has an adjusted case count of 36.4.
PHD Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said her department would like to send a letter to CDPH endorsing the Santa Barbara Unified School District's request to reopen, even though the county has not met the required case count. The letter will ask for the reopening within seven days following the submission of the letter.
During the presentation, Dr. Do-Reynoso shared a CDPH graphic discussing the "Swiss Cheese Respiratory Pandemic Defense" which recognizes that no single intervention is perfect at preventing the spread of COVID and each intervention has holes. The slide suggests using a multi-layer approach is the best option combining personal responsibilities such as physical distance and wearing masks with shared responsibilities such as testing/tracing and vaccinations.
The slide also included a quote from Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky. "There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen... safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely."
Dr. Do-Reynoso confirmed PHD's rationale for the letter is that there are currently schools in the county that are safely open through the waiver process, disadvantaged students should have the same opportunities for in-person instructions as schools in other areas, and students need to return to in-person learning.
As of Friday, Buellton and Santa Barbara Unified School Districts have been approved for reopening.
Health Officer Dr. Ansorg also stated the department is focusing on elementary schools instead of junior and high schools because studies show there's more virus spread among teenagers and they are able to handle online learning better than younger children.
Additionally, CDPH amended its guidance for places of worship in response to a recent judicial ruling. The capacity limits for places of worship and cultural ceremonies include churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples to resume indoor operations at 25% capacity. This also applies to cultural ceremonies like weddings and funerals.
California has initiated distribution changes for the COVID-19 vaccine. The Federal Government is allocating vaccines directly to pharmacies to service long-term care facilities through a federal partnership while providing California with a separate weekly allotment.
With the new state framework, Blue Shield of California is the third-party administrator that will be allocating vaccines to all counties through selected providers such as PHD, hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, and doctors. PHD will continue serving the "safety net population" such as homeless people, undocumented community members, and those struggling with behavioral or substance abuse issues.
The county is still focused on vaccinating healthcare workers and people over the age of 75 years old, which is over 58,000 people. The next round of people eligible for the vaccine include those aged 65-74 (approximately 41,000), educators and childcare workers (22,646 people), food and agricultural workers (33,090 people), and emergency medical service workers (nearly 6,000).
Dr. Do-Reynoso addressed concerns about other counties opening up vaccines to other groups including Long Beach who is vaccinating teachers. On Tuesday morning, Ventura County also announced their COVID-19 Vaccine Phase has expanded to people aged 65 years and older.
She discussed each county makes its decision on who to vaccinate based on three variables, the number of vaccine supply, the number of community members who are eligible and who have declined, and the number of individuals in that tier or group. She also confirmed PHD did an analysis of other counties' vaccine allotments and Santa Barbara is receiving its fair share.
Given the scarcity of the vaccine at this time, Dr. Do-Reynoso confirmed PHD decided to protect and stabilize the healthcare system by prioritizing healthcare workers and protect the most vulnerable residents over the age of 75.
Throughout all areas of the county, the majority of COVID-19 metrics are trending downward, except overall deaths have increased by 26%.
"We have lost more community members so far in 2021 than in all of 2020," said Dr. Do-Reynoso.
From January 25 through February 8, the active cases in Santa Barbara County decreased by 51%, hospitalizations decreased by 27%, and intensive care unit (ICU) stays decreased by 20%.
All areas of the county are experiencing a decrease between 42-68% in new cases.
From January 24 through January 30, the anticipated new case count per 100,000 population is 40.1 and adjusted down to 36.4. The testing positivity rate is 10.2 and the health equity metric is 15.4.
Dr. Do-Reynoso stated it's noteworthy that Santa Barbara County is the 8th highest county in adjusted case counts and 13th highest for testing positivity, despite being ranked 19th for population size in California.
On Tuesday, PHD reported 11 deaths and 124 new COVID-19 cases. Eight individuals were over 70 years of age and three were 50-69 years of age. Seven individuals had underlying health issues and two deaths were associated with outbreaks at congregate care facilities. Three resided in Santa Barbara, three in Lompoc, three in Santa Maria, and two in South County unincorporated.
There have now been 348 deaths.
Currently, the county has 982 active cases including 149 hospitalizations with 41 in the ICU. The county's ICU availability is now at 19.7%.
[Ed Note: This article has been updated with the above data from Tuesday by PHD and clarification on the PHD letter endorsing SBUSD's reopening only.]