[Editor’s note: Noozhawk’s weekly COVID-19 email newsletter is delivered to subscribers on Wednesdays. You can sign up here. We are republishing the newsletters on the website so more readers have access to them.]
Welcome to Noozhawk’s free weekly COVID-19 briefing.
I’m staff writer Brooke Holland with the latest on the pandemic in Santa Barbara County.
This newsletter is emailed out every Wednesday — at no charge — to everyone who subscribes.
Here’s What We Know
» Santa Barbara County advanced to the least-restrictive yellow tier on Tuesday, one week before California’s tiered COVID-19 reopening framework is to be eliminated. Indoor capacity limits and social distancing requirements are expected to end for most business sectors after June 15.
» The California Department of Public Health updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines this week, saying fully vaccinated people “do not need to undergo diagnostic screening testing in nonhealth-care setting workplaces.” Testing “should be considered” among unvaccinated people in some workplaces with higher risk of coronavirus transmission.
» Forty-nine new positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Santa Barbara County over the last week, averaging about seven new cases per day. This is about a 36% drop compared to the week before.
» As of Tuesday, there were nine people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county. One death has been reported in June after no local deaths were identified in May.
» For a number of reasons, Santa Barbara companies are struggling to hire employees. Trish Miller, owner of Spherion staffing, has some timely advice for business owners.
Entering the least-restrictive yellow tier allows increased capacity limits for many business sectors, including retail, restaurants, and gyms and fitness centers.
New guidelines will go into effect at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Santa Barbara County, with a new health officer order from the Public Health Department.
Indoor seating at restaurants can expand to 50% of capacity or 200 people, whichever is less. Churches and places of worship, wineries, breweries, movie theaters, and gyms, and fitness centers can all open indoors at 50% of capacity, and steam rooms and saunas in gyms can reopen.
Bars that don’t serve food can open indoors with capacity limited to 25% or 100 people.
All capacity limits on retail stores have been lifted, according to the state, and museums, zoos, and aquariums can open indoors with public health and safety modifications.
On June 15, California’s tier system will end.
“Everyday life will feel a lot like before COVID-19. Restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, and most everyday places will be open as normal with no capacity limits or social distancing required. (This does not apply to schools, health-care settings and some other public settings.) Of course, anyone can wear a mask anytime they’d like, especially around children and others who are vulnerable or not yet eligible for vaccination. All Californians will continue to follow state masking guidelines as well as state and CDC travel guidelines.”
California is expected to continue posting public health guidance for youth, health-care, and high-risk congregate settings.
COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker
As of Monday, about 54% of all eligible county residents (people 12 years old and older) were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 64% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the county’s Community Data Dashboard.
As of this week, vaccine providers have administered 440,825 doses, including about 8,800 doses in June so far.
Nearly 55% of South Coast residents have been fully vaccinated, while about 37% of North County and 37% of midcounty residents have been fully vaccinated to date, according to the Public Health Department.
Noozhawk’s Series on Long-Term Care Facilities
The COVID-19 virus was spread extremely easily at Santa Barbara County congregate-care and skilled nursing facilities.
Hundreds of residents and workers at these facilities tested positive over the past 15 months, and the county reported 170 coronavirus-related deaths connected to a congregate-care facility outbreak.
My exclusive investigation of the pandemic’s devastating consequences at skilled nursing and congregate-care facilities was researched and reported as part of my USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2020 Data Fellowship.
Read the full series (links below) on the toll of the outbreaks, the efforts to prevent them and the post-vaccination realities for residents in these communities. There has not been a positive coronavirus case among Santa Barbara County skilled nursing residents since Feb. 22, according to state and county tracking.
A graph shows the weekly totals of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Santa Barbara County. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk illustration )
U.K. Variant Becoming Dominant
There are multiple local programs tracking coronavirus variants, including a few that are considered more infectious than the original strain, according to public health officials.
The variant originally found in the United Kingdom has become the dominant one in Santa Barbara County in recent months, according to that tracking.
“The United Kingdom variant only showed up slightly for the first time in January, and then in April, the United Kingdom variant actually accounted for the majority of cases in the county,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, told Noozhawk.
He urged people to get fully vaccinated for protection against the circulating variants.
COVID-19 Vaccines: Were They “Rushed”?
We put that question from a Noozhawk reader to Dr. Henning Ansorg, who replied that COVID-19 vaccines that are authorized for emergency use by the Food & Drug Administration have proven to be effective and safe.
“The fact is that a true global emergency paired with early application of substantial resources made the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines possible,” he wrote in a county message on June 2.
“It is important to note that scientists had studied other coronaviruses for 50 years. They already knew the spike protein could be targeted by a vaccine, which gave them a goal to work toward immediately.”
Financing by the federal government last year made the speedy production ramp up possible, Ansorg added.
Readers have sent us dozens of questions about COVID-19, vaccination, business reopening rules, in-person school, and other pandemic-related issues. Please send yours to [email protected] and we’ll try to include them in future newsletters and Noozhawk Q&As.
» Find a COVID-19 vaccine provider near you on the county website, publichealthsbc.org/vaccine, or at myturn.ca.gov. Some facilities are now offering walk-ups as well as appointments. The vaccine is free to everyone.
» Find more local pandemic-related information on the Public Health Department website and the county’s COVID-19 recovery page, with resources for business reopening, rental assistance, food assistance and more.
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