Wednesday, March 17, 2021

SLO County tenants and landlords can now apply for rent relief under state program

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 3:52 PM

Landlords and low-income tenants with unpaid back rent due to COVID-19 impacts can now apply for rental assistance under a new state program that launched March 16.

The California COVID-19 Rent Relief program will leverage $2 billion in federal stimulus funds to assist eligible landlords and tenants statewide.

AID COMING California launched a new rental relief program to help landlords and tenants pay back rent accumulated during the pandemic. - FILE IMAGE BY ALEX ZUNIGA
  • FILE IMAGE BY ALEX ZUNIGA
  • AID COMING California launched a new rental relief program to help landlords and tenants pay back rent accumulated during the pandemic.
To qualify, tenants must be able to document an economic hardship due to COVID-19, owe back rent from April 2020 to March 2021, and earn a household income of $58,800 or less (80 percent of median income). Applicants will not be asked about their citizenship status.

“Everybody that qualifies should apply,” said Janna Nichols, executive director of the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition. “Fill the whole thing out. Tell the whole story.”

Here’s the gist of the program: Landlords who apply can be made 80-percent whole by the state for their missing rent from qualified tenants—if they agree to waive 20 percent. If a landlord is unwilling to participate, low-income tenants can receive aid for 25 percent of their owed back rent, as well as 25 percent of their future rent—and help with utility bills—to avoid eviction through June 2021.

If that sounds confusing, the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, United Way of SLO County, and Salvation Army SLO Corps are all under contract to help community members navigate the application process. There is also a state phone assistance hotline: (833) 430-2122.

“The documentation being asked for isn’t insurmountable, but it is complex,” Nichols told New Times. “We’ll be doing Zoom, we’ll be doing telephone support, and we’ll also go to people’s doorsteps, if necessary.”

Nichols said that the state appears to be encouraging all eligible landlords and tenants to apply—no matter the dynamic or degree of communication between a given landlord and tenant. Sorting out what type of aid will be delivered and to whom will be determined later.

“On the backside, they’ve worked out some case management coordination to put tenants and landlords together and make that negotiation,” Nichols said.


While the funds are currently limited to renters who owe back rent and prioritized first to tenants who earn less than 50 percent of median income, Nichols said the program could evolve. She encouraged applicants to explain both their past and future hardships related to COVID-19, noting that it’s a one-time chance to apply.

“If you know you’re going to need help with future rent, don’t leave that out,” she said. “Put it in because you’re not going to be able to go back again.” ∆

—Peter Johnson

Monday, March 15, 2021

Coast Unified is last in county to approve a campus reopening plan

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 5:03 PM

Coast Unified School District staff, parents, and students spoke for and against a return to in-person instruction during the March 11 board meeting, and the district ultimately decided to reopen its doors for the last two months of the school year.

Coast Unified was the last district in SLO County to have the discussion.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of transitioning kindergarten through fifth-grade students to in-person instruction on April 12, after the district’s scheduled spring break. Secondary school students will transition into physical classrooms after that.

The four-hour-long virtual meeting had more than 100 participants on the line who talked about the pains of distance learning, how it’s been beneficial for some students, and the concerns that teachers have about returning to school without being vaccinated. A majority of speakers were in favor of in-person instruction.

Scott Smith, Coast Unified’s superintendent, said that all Coast Unified staff were offered COVID-19 vaccine appointments and a majority of teachers had registered.

During public comment, Coast Union High School senior Sophie Mackinnon said many seniors in the class of 2021 didn’t feel that allowing face-to-face instruction would be beneficial to students or teachers.

“The transition from online learning to in-person learning is a great one and one that is probably going to take a lot of time and effort. Only giving us a little over two months time to do this transition is not nearly enough,” Mackinnon said.

She argued that while students want the normalcy that comes with returning to the classroom, Mackinnon and many others are now accustomed to their new schedule of online classes that’s allowed some to have part-time employment, volunteer, or participate in other extracurriculars.

Daniel Schalk, one of Coast Union High School’s science teachers, talked about his experience as an educator and a parent of three children who hasn’t been faring well during this distance learning period.

“My experience with homeschooling my children in addition to teaching has been by-and-large disastrous. I am unskilled at teaching 5-year-olds to add and subtract. I am much better at teaching seniors calculus,” Schalk said.

As part of the in-person teaching plan, elementary school students will be in classrooms from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and secondary school students will be on campus from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The campuses will remain open for students who need access to assistance or participate in learning pods.

All students and staff are required to practice social distancing and wear face masks at all times while on campus. Parents and students have the option to continue with distance learning for the remainder of the school year.

After voting in support of reopening classrooms, district board president Samuel Shalhoub said he felt the district was taking a “pretty huge risk.”

“But as the board president, I will stand in support of our board’s decision and I will do everything in my power to protect our community as we move forward with our transition,” Shalhoub said. ∆

—Karen Garcia

San Luis Obispo County, city say no extra safety restrictions planned for St. Patrick’s Day

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 9:50 AM

Cases of COVID-19 continue to decline and, without any curfews or special holiday restrictions planned at the county or city level, local bars and restaurants are gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day. But the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department is urging community members to keep celebrations brief, outside, small, and among only those without symptoms.

GREEN IN THE RED TIER Local bars and restaurants are gearing up for a pandemic St. Patrick's Day. - FILE PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • FILE PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • GREEN IN THE RED TIER Local bars and restaurants are gearing up for a pandemic St. Patrick's Day.
“But as all of us get ready for the next holiday that is coming up, St. Patrick's Day, I hope that we will all remember the types of surges that we've seen with each holiday beginning with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas time, New Year's Eve,” SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said at a press briefing on March 10. “Every one of those holidays has led to a surge.”

Although Borenstein said the county’s active infection rate continued its downward trend and the number of residents who are vaccinated continues to rise, she said SLO County hasn’t reached herd immunity.

“So please take precautions at this holiday,” she said. “We do not want to see us backslide because of one night worth of gathering in great numbers or partying.”

Last year SLO County issued an executive order temporarily prohibiting alcohol sales at bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving establishments from 5 p.m. the day before St. Patrick’s Day until noon the day after. At that time, SLO County had just confirmed its third case of COVID-19.

As of March 12, there were a little more than 300 active cases and 251 deaths recorded in SLO County, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. But city and county officials alike confirmed that there are no plans to issue restrictions this St. Patrick’s Day that go beyond those outlined in the state’s tiered system.

James Blattler, a spokesperson for the city of SLO, said the city plans to increase staffing levels on St. Patrick’s Day to ensure community members and businesses are following the rules of the red tier. Blattler said the city’s “safety enhancement zone,” which doubles fines for noise violations, unruly gatherings, public urination, and open containers, has been in effect since April 2020 and will continue to be on St. Patrick’s Day.

“As always,” he wrote in an email, “the city encourages all community members to continue adhering to public health guidelines.”

County Administrative Officer Wade Horton said the county plans to stick to the state’s requirements regarding bars and is not considering issuing a curfew.

On a normal St. Patrick’s Day, Black Sheep Bar and Grill would open its doors at 6 a.m. and stay open until 2 a.m. the following morning. That’s not happening this year, according to owner Myriam Olaizola.

“I feel that it’s just not the time to promote partying with what’s going on,” Olaizola told New Times. “So I want to be very safe and very lowkey.”

Black Sheep will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. this St. Patrick’s Day, its usual weekday hours. Olaizola said she plans to bring on a few extra employees to enforce physical distancing, mask, and capacity regulations. Black Sheep isn’t usually the go-to spot for the college party crowd, but she said it hasn’t always been easy for her employees to keep customers in line throughout the pandemic.

At first it was the mask mandate that caused problems. Now, it’s the rule that anyone purchasing alcohol also has to get food. A lot of customers try to fight their way out of buying food and point to other bars in town that either aren’t selling food at all or sell bags of chips with every drink to skirt the regulations and stay open. Olaizola said she doesn’t completely understand the meal rule—why it's supposedly safer to go out and eat than it is to go out and drink—but it’s the state’s mandate.

“These are my rules, and I’m not going to risk losing my license because of somebody who wants to buy a $5 drink,” she said.

Olaizola said she’s just hoping everyone will stay safe and smart this St. Patrick’s Day. SLO County just pushed its way into the red tier, and no one wants to go back into purple.

“If we all work together toward the same healthy goal,” she said, “we would all benefit from it.” ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Santa Barbara County moves closer to state’s red tier reopening rules

Posted By on Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 2:34 PM

The one year mark of COVID-19's arrival in Santa Barbara County is fast approaching, with the county’s first recorded case on March 15, 2020.

“We have seen peaks and valleys, with two significant surge periods,” Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said at the March 9 Board of Supervisors meeting.

ONE YEAR MARK “Given that it’s been a year since we’ve had … our first case, I thought for this presentation, I would show you the whole pandemic and the cases throughout the last 12 months,” Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said during Santa Barbara County's March 9 Board of Supervisors meeting. - SCREENSHOT FROM MARCH 9 SANTA BARBARA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING
  • SCREENSHOT FROM MARCH 9 SANTA BARBARA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING
  • ONE YEAR MARK “Given that it’s been a year since we’ve had … our first case, I thought for this presentation, I would show you the whole pandemic and the cases throughout the last 12 months,” Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said during Santa Barbara County's March 9 Board of Supervisors meeting.
The first surge occurred in May 2020, and the second, much larger surge spanned from December 2020 to early this year.

“The peak occurred on Jan. 13, with 3,256 [active] cases,” Do-Reynoso said. “Currently we are on a downward trend at 272 active cases.”

Over the last two weeks, active cases in the community decreased by about 40 percent, hospitalizations by 38 percent, and ICU rates by 12 percent, she added. While death rates have increased by 7 percent, Do-Reynoso said this does not indicate worsening COVID-19 spread in the community.

“Death often occurs roughly two to eight weeks after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, so that’s why we’re seeing an upward trend,” she said.

Since April 4, 2020, when the county’s first COVID-19 death was reported, Santa Barbara County has lost 424 community members to COVID-19. As of March 9, more than 32,000 residents had tested positive for the virus throughout the course of the pandemic.

Santa Maria and Santa Barbara continue to have the most cases in the county, Do-Reynoso said. She also said the county’s cases have racial and ethnic disparities.

“Hispanic and Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County,” she said. “While Hispanic and Latinos make up 48 percent of the county population, this group makes up 73 percent of the cases for which ethnicity and race information is available.”

As the state continues its vaccine rollout, changes to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy reopening system are forthcoming, and will likely accelerate Santa Barbara County’s move into the red tier.

The state recently established a vaccine equity group with about 400 zip codes in California that make up the lowest quartile of the Healthy Place Index, a tool the state is using to identify inequities. In an effort to vaccinate more people in those zip codes hit hardest by the pandemic, vaccine allotments to these areas are increasing, with the current goal to administer 2 million doses to the quartile, according to a state fact sheet. As of March 9, Do-Reynoso said about 1.9 million doses had been administered in the vaccine equity quartile.

Once the state hits the 2 million mark, red tier metric requirements will change. Instead of a county needing between four and seven cases per 100,000 population to be in the red tier, it will need between four and 10. With Santa Barbara County’s adjusted case rate currently at 9.7, the county would qualify for the red tier as soon as the Blueprint changes.

“Given the volume of vaccines that is occuring statewide, it is conceivable that by Friday or early next week, we would be moved into the [red],” Do-Reynoso said. “So the bottom line is that this really allows Santa Barbara County to move into the red tier much quicker.”

Santa Barbara County’s weekly vaccine allotments are also improving with the addition of the newly approved, single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“This week, we did receive an increase of 39 percent in our allocation,” Do-Reynoso said. “Last week, we received 9,080 vaccines, and this past week we received 12,580 first doses, and that includes the new vaccine, Johnson & Johnson.”

Do-Reynoso ended her presentation by urging community members to get tested for the virus, even if they are not displaying symptoms.

“It remains critical that testing continues as a safety practice along with face covering and physical distancing,” Do-Reynoso said. “It is also critical to reopening our community, reopening our schools, reopening our local businesses, allowing even more sports to begin again, and to allow indoor dining, movies—a return to more normalcy.” Δ

—Malea Martin

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

SLO County stays in red tier while posting orange tier-level numbers

Posted on Wed, Mar 10, 2021 at 3:13 PM

San Luis Obispo County reported its best week for COVID-19 in more than four months on March 9, as new metrics showed a continued decline in case and positivity rates.

PROGRESS Amid a decrease in COVID-19 cases and an increase in vaccinations, SLO County moved into the state’s red tier for economic activity on March 3. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • PROGRESS Amid a decrease in COVID-19 cases and an increase in vaccinations, SLO County moved into the state’s red tier for economic activity on March 3.
The latest adjusted case rate of 5.7 per 100,000 residents and positivity rates of 1.9 percent overall and 2.1 percent in disadvantaged areas show SLO County moving in the right direction after a winter surge drove the case rate to 46 per 100,000 residents and the positivity rate to 11 percent.

On March 3, SLO County moved into the state’s less restrictive red tier for economic activity, where schools, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and other venues were allowed to reopen indoors.

This week’s numbers declined even further, low enough to meet the state’s orange tier standards. But under current reopening rules, SLO County must stay in the red tier until at least March 24.

“We will be in the red tier for a minimum of three weeks,” SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said at a March 3 press conference. “But at any point [then], if we have two weeks worth of metrics that are more positive—so either our case rates and positivity rates being in orange—we’ll be able to move to orange.”

In the orange tier—which is below the state’s least restrictive yellow tier—outdoor entertainment venues may reopen, along with non-essential offices, indoor pools, bars and wineries without food, and more sectors. Businesses may also increase indoor capacity.

As SLO County continues progressing, the state also recently announced a new framework that will enable counties to move through tiers faster—but it’s contingent on meeting equity goals for vaccine distribution.

Once California administers 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations to its most disadvantaged residents, the state will lower the standards for counties moving from the purple tier to the red tier. After 4 million vaccinations go to those populations, the orange and yellow tiers will also become more attainable.

According to the latest available state vaccine data, California is about 100,000 shots shy of hitting the 2 million equity mark. ∆

—Peter Johnson

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

SLO County to offer grants for small businesses and child care centers

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2021 at 3:18 PM

Hard-hit small businesses and child care centers in unincorporated San Luis Obispo County will soon be eligible for new grants under a local program approved by the SLO County Board of Supervisors.
NEW AID SLO County is setting aside $55,000 for a new grant program to help local child care centers. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • NEW AID SLO County is setting aside $55,000 for a new grant program to help local child care centers.

On March 2, supervisors signed off on a $230,000 package that pulls from the county general fund—allocating $50,000 for small businesses, $55,000 for child care centers, and $125,000 for public outreach and marketing.

The microgrants will target businesses located in unincorporated communities where COVID-19 financial relief has been harder to come by, according to 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg and 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, who partnered on a board subcommittee to formulate the program.

“It’s really for the type of little businesses that probably will have a harder time meeting some of the larger grant requirements,” Ortiz-Legg told New Times.

More details on the grant application process are forthcoming, but SLO County said it will tap the SLO County Workforce Development Board for administration. The Development Board ran a prior COVID-19 grant program that saved 120 local jobs, Ortiz-Legg said.

“They already have a system and infrastructure in place,” she said.

In addition to the grants, SLO County is also revamping its readyslo.org and recoverslo.org websites to consolidate and better advertise the various pandemic-related financial resources that are available.

Ortiz-Legg said that public confusion around how to obtain COVID-19 aid has been “one of the biggest pain points” for the community.

“We’re trying to do a cleanup job, if you will, of positioning all the various federal, state, and local resources for businesses and individuals,” she said.

When asked why SLO County is investing less money into local business grants than cities like SLO or Grover Beach, Ortiz-Legg said the county has to balance its financial commitment to being the lead agency for “the health portion of COVID-19.”

“Until COVID’s over, we just don’t know what we need money for next,” she said. “A variety of unknowns could come forth and we need to be cautious.” ∆
Peter Johnson

SLO floral installation creates space for the community to grieve COVID-19 losses

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2021 at 9:57 AM

Red, pink, and cream roses form a heart near Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in Downtown San Luis Obispo.

As part of the nationwide Floral Heart Project started by artist Kristina Libby, the installation commemorates those who have been impacted by COVID-19 as the U.S. hits the pandemic one-year mark.

GRIEVING TOGETHER Noonan’s Wine Country Designs, the Downtown SLO Association, and Eufloria Flowers partnered to create a public floral installation to commemorate those lost to COVID-19. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • GRIEVING TOGETHER Noonan’s Wine Country Designs, the Downtown SLO Association, and Eufloria Flowers partnered to create a public floral installation to commemorate those lost to COVID-19.
Flower hearts were placed in public spaces throughout the United States on March 1, 2021, so passersby can take a moment to pay their respects and reflect.

Local floral designer Katie Noonan of Noonan’s Wine Country Designs told New Times she learned about the project through her industry ties and colleagues from across the nation.

As her peers were gearing up to participate, Noonan said she was dealing with the emotions of having a family member who contracted the virus.

“I just thought it was something where I could share my talent and spread a sort of happiness or peace with the fresh flowers,” she said. “I just feel like if that can turn someone’s day around, or make someone smile, it could really make someone feel a little bit better if they’re going through a hard time.”

According to the Floral Heart Project website, Libby began this project by researching the potential impacts the pandemic could have on society. She found that for every person who’s lost to the virus, two to nine people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Worried about the current state of our country, she felt that we could not withstand this deep psychological wound without help. Her contribution has been to create visualizations of those we have lost and to hold vigils and ritual ceremonies for those suffering as part of the Floral Heart Project,” the website states.

Noonan, the Downtown SLO Association, and Eufloria Flowers collaborated to donate the heart on display in Mission Plaza.

Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said she believes that public art can play a role in processing collective moments of grief.

As of March 2, 236 individuals had died from the virus in SLO County. Swigger said it was profound to watch the losses stack up during the latest surge and many people in the community might be grieving a lost loved one, a job, or cherished activities.

“There are a lot of ways that we can think about and process the collective grief we have for the pandemic but really honoring the lives that were lost is so important,” she said.

Swigger and Noonan both agreed that the mission felt like the right place for the public to reflect.

“The mission obviously is the heart of how we were founded. There are elements of grief and memory around how the mission was founded itself. The plaza has even become a place for public discourse and it just feels like the right time, the right place, and the right project,” Swigger said.

The floral heart will be on display for the rest of the week, or until the flowers wilt. ∆
—Karen Garcia

Friday, February 26, 2021

Hundreds of SLO County educators to get vaccines starting March 1

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2021 at 2:02 PM

Several hundred San Luis Obispo County educators are in line to get vaccinated during the first week of March as part of a statewide effort to get schools and child care centers reopened.

FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM


On Feb. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that starting March 1, 10 percent of the state’s weekly doses of COVID-19 vaccine would go toward school and child care employees returning to in-person classes. SLO County Health Officer Penny Borenstein said at a press briefing on Feb. 24 that the county plans to honor that mandate, reserving 10 percent of the county’s vaccine doses for high-priority employees in those sectors.

“This is important, especially as schools are looking at the prospect of opening more widely,” Borenstein said. “We are going to try to keep step with meeting that need for those, on a prioritized basis, who are in person and as they move back into higher risk settings, more students coming on board. These staff and child care providers will work with their employers to try to develop a prioritized scheme and to try to get as many people through the system as quickly as they can.”

Jim Brescia, superintendent of the SLO County Office of Education, said there are roughly 600 vaccination appointments available to local education and child care employees from March 1 through 5. Allocations to individual school districts depend on how many employees are working in higher risk situations, he said, like those with students who struggle to follow COVID-19 safety protocols or employees with documented medical issues working in-person.

“We’re just trying to prioritize those who are most vulnerable and most at risk first,” Brescia told New Times.

Eighty-nine San Luis Coastal Unified School District employees are slated to get vaccines the first week of March, according to Director of Human Resources Christin Newlon. San Luis Coastal is prioritizing employees who are already working on campus, those with documented medical issues who plan to return for in-person classes, staff in special education classrooms who are required to have close physical contact with students, and staff in preschool and transitional kindergarten classes, where younger children often don’t wear masks.

Some special educators in intensive settings have already been vaccinated, Newlon said.

Lucia Mar Unified School District, which received 112 vaccine allotments, is working on a similarly tiered vaccine rollout among its employees, according to spokesperson Amy Jacobs, starting first with employees who are already working with students in classrooms. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Older adults, Latino residents are disproportionately dying from COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2021 at 3:05 PM

While young and middle-aged adults make up the most COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County, deaths are highest among elderly residents, according to recently released data. Latinos and Hispanics contract, are hospitalized, and die from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

RACIAL DISPARITIES Latino and Hispanic residents make up a disproportionate percentage of Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to county data. - SCREENSHOT OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY COMMUNITY DATA DASHBOARD
  • SCREENSHOT OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY COMMUNITY DATA DASHBOARD
  • RACIAL DISPARITIES Latino and Hispanic residents make up a disproportionate percentage of Santa Barbara County’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to county data.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s epidemiology team recently released the COVID-19 demographics report, which analyzes COVID-19 data up to Dec. 31, 2020. The data reveals which age groups and races are most affected by the virus in Santa Barbara County, and compares these numbers against the county’s population.

People aged 18 to 29 represent an inordinate percentage of COVID-19 cases in the county, as this group makes up 21 percent of the county’s population, but 30 percent of its cases. Adverse outcomes for 18 to 29-year-olds who contract the virus are low, making up 16 percent of hospitalizations and less than 1 percent of deaths.

While those aged 70 and older only make up 11 percent of the county’s population and 7 percent of its cases, they account for 26 percent of hospitalizations and 67 percent of deaths.

Children (those under 18) accounted for only 9 percent of COVID-19 cases, despite being 23 percent of the county’s population, but Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said that most schools were closed for in-person classes during the reporting period.

“As Santa Barbara County schools start to reopen, it’s possible that more cases will be attributed to children in the next quarter,” she said during a Feb. 19 press conference.

With Santa Barbara County’s adjusted case rate at 16.9 per 100,000 cases as of Feb. 23, kindergarten through sixth grade-serving school districts that have submitted their safety plans may reopen under state guidelines.

The county’s demographic report also reveals racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases and recovery. While Hispanic and Latino people account for 48 percent of Santa Barbara County’s population, this group made up 57 percent of cases in the county, 67 percent of hospitalizations, and 50 percent of deaths. White people make up 43 percent of the county population, but just 15 percent of cases, 23 percent of hospitalized cases, and 39 percent of deaths.

“Many of these deaths occurred at skilled nursing homes and other congregate care settings, which have been highly impacted by the pandemic,” Do-Reynoso said.

About 22 percent of COVID-19 cases in the data set were missing the person’s race. However, no racial data was missing from reported deaths, where Hispanic and Latino residents were also disproportionately affected.

COVID-19 metrics in Santa Barbara County continue to improve each week, but the health equity metric—a state data point that tracks positive cases in disadvantaged communities—remains elevated in comparison to the overall positivity rate.

“While the SARS-Cov-2 is novel, the disparate impact of [the] COVID-19 pandemic on Santa Barbara County’s communities of color is deeply rooted in the historic and ongoing social and economic inequalities that lead to persistent racial disparities in health status,” Do-Reynoso said at the press conference. Δ

—Malea Martin

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

As COVID-19 numbers tick down in SLO County, officials encourage more testing for reopening

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 4:04 PM

San Luis Obispo County received more good COVID-19 news on Feb. 23. Local case numbers continue to decline and, if they hold for another week, could nudge the county into the state’s less restrictive red tier.

But there’s one declining metric that the SLO County Public Health Department says it’d like to see go back up again: testing. This week, SLO County recorded its lowest COVID-19 test rate since early January, a 33 percent drop in testing from a month ago.

ENCOURAGING TESTING SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein is asking residents to get tested for COVID-19 to help accelerate the county’s reopening. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • ENCOURAGING TESTING SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein is asking residents to get tested for COVID-19 to help accelerate the county’s reopening.
In a Feb. 23 press release titled, “Want SLO County to move to red tier? Get tested for COVID-19,” public health officials played to locals’ reopening desires by pointing out that high levels of testing will help drive down the county’s adjusted case rate—a key metric used to determine restrictions for counties.

This week, SLO County reported an adjusted case rate of 9.4, which aligns it with the state’s most restrictive purple tier. SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said that more COVID-19 testing “has the added benefit of allowing us to progress towards safely reopening our local businesses and schools.”

“The more people get tested, the faster the state will ease pandemic-related restrictions locally,” her office’s release said.

Health officials said public testing clinics in Paso Robles, Morro Bay, SLO, Grover Beach, and Nipomo are now accepting walk-ups appointments and that “the test itself is much more comfortable.”

“Health care workers at the sites now swab the ‘anterior nares,’ or the base of the nostril, instead of the upper cavity that was customary early in the pandemic,” it stated.

If SLO County’s current metrics hold another week, it could still move into the red tier on March 3. Its overall positivity rate and health equity positivity rate are low enough to meet the orange tier (the tier even less restrictive than red)—and that alone is a qualifier to move ahead.

Counties in the red tier may reopen indoor operations at places like restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms. Only five counties progressed from purple to red tier on Feb. 23.

On Feb. 23, SLO County reported 42 new COVID-19 cases, with 21 residents currently hospitalized and eight in ICUs. ∆

—Peter Johnson
Readers Poll

What do you think about setting up a sanctioned campground for the unhoused at El Chorro Regional Park?

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  • Sounds like more NIMBYism to me.
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  • It sounds good but is likely unfeasible.

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