Local health authorities and UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project teamed up for a virtual webinar Thursday to explain the health and economic state of Santa Barbara County nearly 19 months in the coronavirus pandemic.
Pierre Rupert, Executive Director of the Economic Forecast Project, was joined by Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso and Dr Lynn Fitzgibbons, President of Health Chalet Division of Infectious Diseases, to learn about local trends in COVID-19 case rate, immunization status and vaccine effectiveness, hospital condition and economic trends.
The county’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people was August 19-27, according to Do-Reynoso. But looking further into that figure, she said, the case rate among those unvaccinated was 32.3 per 100,000 with only 7 per 100,000 among those vaccinated.
“We can see that the cases were 4.61 times more likely to be unvaccinated than vaccinated,” she added. âI am encouraged that we are now seeing a downward trend in cases for people who have been vaccinated as well as for people who have not been vaccinated. “
The county’s test positivity rate as of Aug. 28 was 6.1%, which remains a “pretty high” number, Do-Reynoso said.
As of September 1, 65.2% of eligible county residents had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, meaning that “133,562 people need to be vaccinated so that we can get out of this pandemic much sooner rather than later,” a- she declared.
The public health department began planning for the distribution of booster vaccines several weeks ago, anticipating the Food & Drug Administration the approval of an additional blow to the general population in late September, Do-Reynoso said.
At present, the county has the capacity to provide more than 16,100 booster shots per week, she added.
“This is a very good number, but we are not happy with it,” Do-Reynoso said, adding that the department would continue to work with its health partners to speed up the distribution of the booster vaccines.
With the next booster shots, Fitzgibbons said there had been a lot of questions about whether the vaccine’s effectiveness worsened over time.
“The good news is that these vaccines continue to work very well for the reasons they were designed: to prevent hospitalizations, life-threatening illnesses and death,” she said.
“That’s what these vaccines should do, and that’s what they continue to do.”
However, when looking at all the infections, several studies show that around July, the vaccine’s effectiveness seemed to have started to wane, Fitzgibbons said.
âWell, what happened in July? She continued. âDelta (variant) showed up, and I think that’s really the million dollar question.
“Is this drop in vaccine efficacy, in other words, this increase in vaccine-ruptured infections due to Delta?” Or is it due to the weather, is it just that these vaccines need a boost?
A new report from the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention found that the vaccine’s effectiveness appears to wear off slightly for people over 65, Fitzgibbons said, which could be the basis for booster shots of the vaccine.
âAs much as I still think very stronglyâ¦ that these vaccines do a very, very good job of protecting our community as a whole from serious disease, it’s not perfect,â Fitzgibbons said.
“And then the question is, in whom is he less perfect?” Who gets a serious illness who is fully immunized? “
Fitzgibbons showed a graph of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices with hospitalization data by age from April to July that depicted a decline in the 75 and over age group.
The committee hopes to delve into these trends and issues in the coming weeks as it collects more data, she said.
With the Delta variant in circulation and the increase in COVID-19 cases over the past month, county hospitals are operating at less than ideal availability rates.
As of Sept. 1, 31.5% of the county’s hospital beds were available to the public, with 26.3% of intensive care unit capacity remaining, according to Do-Reynoso.
“For me, this is unacceptable,” she said. âIt means hospitals have started and started postponing critical medical procedures. “
Last week, the hospital system in the San Joaquin Valley, an area contiguous to Santa Barbara County, reached less than 10% capacity, Do-Reynoso said. For this reason, Cottage Health has been notified of being on standby to receive patients from hospitals in this area.
“We want to preserve our hospital capacity for emergencies, for medical procedures,” she said. “So when we see hospitals reaching (their) limit in other areas, it invariably affects ours as well.”
“Hospitals are feeling the pressure not only from Delta’s recent increase but, unfortunately, what is disappointing is the remarkable volume of patients who need hospital care at this time,” she said.
Despite the increased stress on the hospital system, Fitzgibbons said with the number of new cases reported, hospitalizations are well below what they were in the winter wave.
“If we had had (this) many cases in the winter, we would have seen more hospitalizations,” she said. âWe’re supposed to see more serious illness with Deltaâ¦ there would be maybe twice as many hospitalizations with Delta.
âAt Cottage, we are witnessing an almost opposite phenomenon.
Fitzgibbons said this could be because the population that is infected with the virus is now much younger and less at risk of serious illness, more of the population being vaccinated against the virus, or because the increase in the delta may still be in its infancy.
Unemployment rates fell much faster when the COVID-19 crisis first hit compared to the 2008 recession, and nationwide unemployment rates are still around 8 million people from levels before the pandemic, according to Rupert.
However, it took the county less time to approach pre-pandemic employment levels than the national trend, he added.
What is really striking, Rupert said, is that there are more job openings than the number of unemployed nationwide.
The number of vacant jobs in the leisure, hospitality and retail industries is higher than at any time in the history of data, which dates back to December 2000, he said. .
âWhy are these people not going back to work given that it is easy to find a job right now? Rupert asked.
He said this could be due to improved pandemic unemployment benefits, which included weekly $ 300 bonus checks. More than 11 million Americans were covered by the program, which expired on Labor Day weekend.
Rupert also suggested that some people may have tried changing jobs in the past year and a half.
In Santa Barbara County, the hotel industry is doing better but is “not even close” to returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to Rupert. The retail industry has rebounded a bit and he said he doesn’t think it will continue to decline like the manufacturing industry has.
Average hourly earnings have increased recently, but “the problem is that year on year inflation has increased more,” Rupert said, adding that real earnings had actually fallen.
House prices have skyrocketed during the pandemic, and house price growth in Santa Barbara County exceeds 20%, he said, adding that this was “not a sustainable number” .