A Tuesday health order from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department permits the reopening of K-12 schools in the county and continues restrictions on gatherings for the next two weeks, officials said Tuesday.
Santa Barbara County received the formal go-ahead to reopen schools with modifications after the county reached the two-week mark in the state's red tier, marking a turning point for schools eager to return to in-person learning.
"Because we have been in the red tier for 14 days, K-12 [grades] now have the option to return for in-person learning," Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said.
After seven months of closure since the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-March, schools interested in reopening now can submit reopening plans with in-depth guidance for screening, testing and cohorting of students to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department for approval.
Over the past two months, the only students permitted to return to campus have been those in specialized learning cohorts and elementary students at schools with an approved reopening waiver.
Under the state waiver process, which requires the approval of reopening plans by both the county and state public health departments, 33 schools and districts in the county have been able to bring K-6 students back into the classroom.
While some private schools such as St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria are ready to bring students back within the next week, larger public schools have more preparation and bargaining to do before they can proceed.
In northern Santa Barbara County, officials in public school districts such as Orcutt Union and Lompoc Unified have expressed plans to wait until at least January to return to school, with other officials in districts like Santa Maria Joint-Union and Santa Maria-Bonita slated to discuss reopening options at board meetings this week.
County officials also have extended a local ban on gatherings for the next two weeks, after the state released new guidance on Friday permitting gatherings of up to three households.
According to Do-Reynoso, the county still is exhibiting signs of substantial infection, which warrants continued restrictions on gatherings for the time being, especially considering the level of COVID-19 spread that can occur between groups of people from different households.
"Our health officer order … will maintain the current prohibition on gatherings for the next two weeks, so that we continue to see the decrease in case rate and testing positivity," Do-Reynoso said.
Santa Barbara County cases
Along with guidance regarding schools and gatherings, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department also confirmed an additional 29 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
A total of 9,503 cases now have been confirmed in the county, with 128 still considered active and contagious, according to county public health data.
Nineteen individuals are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, including five individuals in the ICU, according to county data.
In the city of Santa Maria, 45 out of 4,060 total cases remain active. Sixty-two individuals have died.
In the community of Orcutt, nine out of 347 total cases remain active. Three individuals have died.
In the city of Lompoc, 17 out of 895 total cases remain active. Eight individuals have died.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, which includes the areas of Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and Ballard, 10 out of 170 total cases remain active. Seven individuals have died.
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