With the holiday festivities come winter viruses, and the Santa Barbara County Department of Public Health (PHD) is once again encouraging residents to remove their masks.
Cases of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and flu hit Californians earlier than usual this year and have been on the rise since early December. Public Health officials are advising residents to get vaccinated against flu and COVID, including the new bivalent booster, if they haven’t already, to better protect against more serious illness, hospitalizations, and death from these viruses.
“The doctor strongly recommends the wearing of a high-quality mask in closed public environments such as public transport, shops, offices, etc,” said Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer. “This will reduce the risk of contracting any of the circulating winter virus diseases.”
Average daily cases of COVID-19 in the state have fluctuated this month, but have recently remained between 7,000 and a high of 8,669. In Santa Barbara County, as of December 22, there were 773 new cases reported since December 1, with an average of 110 new cases reported daily for the previous seven days. That’s a 20 percent increase from the average two weeks ago, but COVID-19 community levels and hospitalizations remained low in the county, according to CDC definitions.
Between 16 and 22 December, two COVID-related deaths were reported in the county. As of 22 December, district hospitals had 55 COVID positive patients and only six intensive care beds.
According to Ansorg, hospitals in the county “are able to cope with new hospital admission rates. We also have sufficient capacity in intensive care units and children’s beds.”
Statewide flu activity rose from moderate to high in early December this year and remained high. However, influenza activity has remained moderate (between 10 and 20 percent) in Santa Barbara County, with zero Flu-related deaths so far this season, according to a December 10 report from Public Health.
As stated in the December 10 report, “8 clusters of non-COVID-19 Upper Respiratory Diseases were reported in public settings this season, 6 clusters were positive for RSV rather than flu.”
RSV cases were reported to have increased significantly in November, with more than 400 cases in Santa Barbara County this season and more hospitalizations in the county than last year. Common symptoms of RSV include a stuffy or runny nose, cough, headache, and a low-grade fever that usually resolves after a week or two.
California Department of Public Health officials say most cases of childhood respiratory illness, such as RSV, are mild and resolve on their own with home treatment to reduce discomfort. But parents should know what signs and symptoms to look for if their child needs medical attention.
CDPH Epidemiologist Dr. “As a parent and pediatrician specializing in infections, it’s alarming to see an increase in RSV and flu in infants, toddlers and our elderly population,” Erica Pan said in a November press release. “In addition to prevention methods, it is very important that we know how to care for loved ones at home and what symptoms parents should look out for in order to seek care for their children.”
Signs that parents should look out for and that may require a trip to the hospital include rapid, irregular breathing or signs of the child having trouble breathing, signs of dehydration, skin discoloration, decreased activity and alertness, poor sleep, moodiness, ear pulling. or drainage and fever above 104 degrees.
As for general advice on staying healthy this holiday season, Ansorg advises residents to “stay home if you experience any virus symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, headache, fever)”, “wash your hands often” to prevent further spread of the disease. ,” “do outdoor activities whenever possible,” and of course, “wear a high-quality mask in public indoor environments.”
“If you have very vulnerable family members at your festivities or gatherings, consider having everyone attending take a COVID test the morning of the scheduled meeting,” Ansorg said.
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