Santa Barbara County residents both vaccinated and unvaccinated, will be required to wear face coverings in all public indoor areas under a new health officer order that goes into effect Friday.

Beginning 5 p.m., all residents age 2 and older will be required to wear a face covering indoors, with very limited exceptions, said Santa Barbara County Public Health spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz.

In a stakeholder meeting Tuesday, public health officials announced that the county's mask recommendation would be upgraded to a mandate amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases, particularly among the unvaccinated population.  

“Over the past two weeks, the county’s active COVID-19 cases have increased significantly with a case rate of 12.4 per 100,000 and a test [positivity] of 6.8%, which would have placed Santa Barbara County in the purple tier if the tier system were still active,” county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said.

Hospitalizations connected to the virus have increased along with cases, with 31 individuals currently hospitalized, including five in the intensive care unit, according to county public health data as of Tuesday.

Various outbreaks are also being tracked throughout the county, with several confirmed among staff and residents in locations like long-term care facilities and homeless shelters, according to public health officials

While indoor masking has been required for all unvaccinated residents in public areas for several months, enforcement of the guidance has been tricky, with the majority of businesses asking residents to self-attest to their vaccination status.

Although it is more rare, recent research indicates that vaccinated residents can contract and spread COVID-19, particularly the highly transmissible delta variant, which is why all residents are included in the health order.

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Unvaccinated residents make up the overwhelming majority of new COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County, but cases among the vaccinated population are also increasing, Ruiz said.

County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said the mandate is the best way to keep all residents safe from the virus and prevent future closures.

“This Health Officer Order is intended to protect everyone to the greatest extent possible, from the substantial spread of the virus being seen now in our community.  In addition, the order is intended to support the continued operations of local businesses, activities and schools,” Ansorg said.

The full health officer order is available online at publichealthsbc.org/health-officer-orders.

All residents over the age of 12 who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to do so. Residents can visit publichealthsbc.org/vaccine to find nearby vaccine locations or myturn.ca.gov to schedule a vaccine appointment. 

Those in need of assistance with making an appointment can contact the county hotline at 211 and select option 8 for multilingual services. 

The vaccine is free and available to all residents 12 and older regardless of documentation status.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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