By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer
After nearly four weeks of being in the most critical, or purple, tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening framework, Santa Barbara County on Tuesday was on track to move to the less-restrictive red tier.
County Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso reported an adjusted case rate and positivity rate that met the state’s standard for loosening restrictions, but the county needs to satisfy the tier’s criteria for several consecutive days to move to the next tier — the red tier.
Therefore, the county remains categorized in the purple-colored “widespread” virus transmission tier in California’s COVID-19 pandemic tracking system, Do-Reynoso said at the county Board of Supervisors meeting.
“We have one week worth of credit for being in the red,” said Do-Reynoso, who provided a progress report on the county’s COVID-19 situation.
If numbers remain steady or get lower, the county could receive state approval to move into the red-tier status and the region would advance to a less-restrictive tier. That could happen as early as Sept. 29, Do-Reynoso said.
As of Wednesday, there were 22 new cases reported, along with two deaths, one of those from the Santa Ynez Valley and they other from Santa Maria. Both decedents were 50-69 years of age with underlying health conditions. So far the Santa Ynez Valley has had 151 positive cases with eight still active and six deaths associated with COVID, according to the county reporting system.
State officials will announce the county’s reopening situation within the four-tier, color-coded system every Tuesday.
If approved to the less-restrictive red tier, the county’s new status would allow gyms, personal care services, movie theaters, museums and places of worship to reopen indoors with limitations, among other sectors of business. Indoor restaurant dining could resume with modifications.
When Santa Barbara County moves into the less-restrictive red tier, some other businesses could resume indoor operations if local public health officials decide to do so.
“Businesses can open accordingly to the sector guidelines posted online as soon as it is allowed by the local jurisdiction,” Do-Reynoso said. “Some jurisdictions have decided to wait a bit longer.”
The state will consider test positivity and adjusted case rate metrics when determining whether counties meet the threshold to move to the next phase of the reopening criteria.
Data ending Sept. 12 showed the county’s case rate at 6.5 new daily cases per 100,000 residents with an adjusted figure of 6.7 and a COVID-19 testing positivity rate of 4.3. To move to the red tier, Santa Barbara County would need to report fewer than seven new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents as a seven-day average with a seven-day lag period.
The case rate must drop to an average of 31 cases or fewer per day for the county to move into the next, less-restrictive tier of the reopening system.
“That’s our goal,” Do-Reynoso said during her report Tuesday that lasted about 10 minutes.
At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 21 days before moving to the next tier. A county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks to move forward, according to the state’s reopening framework.
A county will be assigned a more-restrictive tier if the test positivity or adjusted case rate metrics worsen for 14 consecutive days, according to the state. That means counties have three days to implement more-restrictive sector changes, Do-Reynoso said.
Schools in the purple tier aren’t permitted to reopen for in-person instruction unless they receive a waiver from the local public health department for transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, according to California’s reopening structure.
K-12 schools would be in a position to resume in-person instruction once the county has been in the red tier for at least two weeks. That could take place as early as Oct. 13 in Santa Barbara County, according to Do-Reynoso.
A state-permitted waiver process for K-6 schools to reopen is still available during the wait, Do-Reynoso said.
If the county exceeds the metrics to remain in the red tier and moves into the most-restrictive purple tier, the reopened schools would continue in-person instruction, Do-Reynoso said.
“Once schools are reopened,” Do-Reynoso said, “they can be open.”
Santa Barbara County has made significant progress, according to Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart.
“This is a significant day,” Hart said. “We have our first red report card from the State of California, and that is a big deal.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said that “it’s good news we are trending in the right direction.”
Both the county and the public need to “continue a level of vigilance to ensure this positive trend continues,” First District Supervisor Das Williams said.
As of Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County was in the state’s red tier.
During the past week, Santa Barbara County saw a decreasing trend in several areas of the region, including Santa Maria and Lompoc. Data showed a slight uptick in Goleta, Isla Vista, Santa Ynez and in the North County unincorporated areas, according to Do-Reynoso.
The county has been seeing a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The total number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county fell 44 percent, while COVID-19 ICU hospitalization rates declined 71 percent during the past two weeks.
There were 23 confirmed COVID-19 patients being treated in local hospitals as of Tuesday. Of those, five were in intensive-care units, according to the county.
Santa Barbara County health officials on Tuesday reported 25 new COVID-19 cases and one additional virus-related death. The resident was over 70 years of age, had underlying health conditions and resided in the unincorporated area of Goleta, public health officials said. No further details were available.
There were 8,952 COVID-19 cases tallied in the county and 111 deaths reported as of Tuesday.
Of the county’s total COVID-19 cases, 39 percent of residents had close contact with an infected person, 25 percent caught the virus through community interactions and the infection was unknown for 35 percent. One percent remains under investigation, Do-Reynoso said.
Also on Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department announced the recovery of all but one of its inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak at the Main Jail.
“With the recovery of these inmates, the Main Jail has only one remaining active COVID-19 case,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said. “The remaining COVID-19 positive inmate is being medically isolated in a negative pressure cell and is regularly monitored.”
Inmates tested positive between Aug. 24 and Sept. 7, “with the majority presenting as, and remaining, asymptomatic,” Zick said.
During that time period, Zick said, the Sheriff’s Department tested all inmates housed within the jail and completed more than 500 COVID-19 tests.
To date, the county Sheriff’s Department reported 84 inmates at the County Jail near Santa Barbara have tested positive for COVID-19, with 15 inmates released from custody.