Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso announces that Santa Barbara County will open COVID-19 vaccines for people 65 and older next week. (Screenshot via Santa Barbara County photo)
People 65 and older can begin scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Barbara County next week, the Department of Public Health announced Friday.
During the first two months of vaccine distribution, the county focused on healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and people 75 and older.
Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg estimated that at least two-thirds of the local population over the age of 75 have been vaccinated at this time, and those residents can continue to book appointments even as eligibility expands to more people.
Van Do-Reynoso, director of public health, said that people 65 and older can begin signing up for appointments on February 16, next Tuesday.
Workers in the education, childcare, food and agriculture industries cannot yet enroll.
Additionally, state officials announced on Friday that beginning March 15, individuals ages 16 to 64 who are disabled or at high risk of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Underlying conditions stated in the guidelines include cancer, stage four or higher chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, Down syndrome, pregnancy, heart conditions, severe obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among others.
As the situation expands, the county will turn to people 65 and older first, Do-Reynoso said during a briefing on Friday.
“I just want to ground ourselves in reality,” he added.
The county receives about 6,000 vaccine doses per week and the 65 to 74 age group is about 41,000 people, he said.
“So the bottom line is that vaccine supplies are still very limited,” he said, adding that vaccine providers are also making sure that everyone who has already received a first dose receives a second dose in a timely manner.
(Screenshot via Santa Barbara County graphic)
“We have far more people than we have vaccines, and we ask that until the vaccine supply increases, the community allow those who are most at risk of exposure and serious health problems to be allowed to schedule their vaccination appointments first.”
The California Department of Public Health developed vaccine distribution guidelines with priority status for people considered to be at high risk of exposure to the virus and serious illness if infected.
Each county had some discretion, and Santa Barbara County decided to start with more than 75 residents before expanding to this larger group of 65 or more, Do-Reynoso said.
Ansorg said the county was prepared to administer three times the number of vaccines it has received thus far, and that initial shortage created a lot of frustration.
“This shortage made it necessary to prioritize the most vulnerable population to receive the vaccine first. These difficult first two months could have been avoided if the (federal) government had secured and shipped the number of doses they promised. We had prepared according to their promises, “he said.
Now production is “increasing” domestically and a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, will likely be available soon in the United States, he added.
A chart from the February 9 Board of Supervisors meeting shows the estimated populations of the soon-to-be vaccinated groups in Santa Barbara County. (Graphic from the Department of Public Health)
Starting in mid-March, the state will shift vaccine distribution to an outside administrator. Blue Shield of California will then assign vaccines directly to pharmacies, public and private healthcare networks, hospitals, pop-up sites, and community healthcare centers.
This transition will streamline vaccine distribution and optimize the vaccine supply chain, Ansorg said.
As of Friday, the county has received 61,000 doses of the vaccine and administered 99% of those doses, shared Do-Reynoso. “This is a great, great celebration for our community,” he said.
Public Health on Friday introduced a new COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, which provides information such as doses administered by age, race, ethnicity and sex. The dashboard also describes the number of vaccines that have been assigned, ordered and administered, as well as the percentage of the population fully vaccinated in each region of the county.
With the virus mutating and spreading, Ansorg said N95 masks are ideal for protecting community members against the virus. Surgical masks are designed to protect the wearer’s environment, but they are not sufficient to protect the wearer from the outside environment, Ansorg said.
To make sure the mask fits tight enough to protect the wearer, he said some have found a solution using the double mask.
Public Health reported 87 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the lowest daily number since Dec. 19.
“When I looked this morning, I was really excited,” Ansorg said. “Our local case rates and test positivity rates have finally dropped. It is a great relief for all of us.
There were 741 cases still considered infectious countywide, also the lowest number of active cases reported since Dec. 13.
There were 139 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the county and 28 required intensive care. The county’s ICU availability was 31.6%, according to Public Health.
A new death from COVID-19 was reported on Friday. The individual was in his 70s, suffered from underlying medical conditions, and resided in Santa Maria.
There have been 367 deaths related to COVID-19 to date.
Of the new cases on Friday, 29 were from Santa Barbara and 16 were from Lompoc.
Santa María and the unincorporated area of the Goleta and Gaviota Valley reported seven new cases, the Santa Ynez Valley recorded six, and Isla Vista recorded five.
The Montecito-Summerland-Carpinteria, Goleta and unincorporated areas of North County reported three new cases and Orcutt reported one.
There were seven pending cases of geographic location.
There have been 30,586 confirmed cases in the county since the pandemic began.