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What we know about the Delta variant on the Central Coast

SB County Community Dashboard provides information on COVID-19 variants

In recent weeks, the Central Coast has seen an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates due to the highly transmissible Delta variant. Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, Cottage Health, monitors the variant in Santa Barbara County.

Dr. Fitzgibbons said virtually every virus that has caused disease in humans has had variants.

“All that a variant of a virus is, is a different version of the virus with a change in the sequence of the genome, the blueprint that makes new copies of the virus when it replicates,” she said.

Testing for variants of the COVID-19 virus requires genomic sequencing in a sophisticated lab and several days, or even weeks, for the results, but Fitzgibbons said this research is critically important to help medical professionals understand what they are dealing with.

“Giving people like me or other infectious disease doctors and, of course, our public health officials, the confidence to be able to say that A) we know what variants are circulating in our community and, B) we have confidence that our currently available vaccines are well matched to prevent severe disease and death against these variants,” Fitzgibbons said.

Cottage Health, UC Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department work together to identify and monitor emerging variants in Santa Barbara County. Fitzgibbons said multiple variants are present in the county, but the Delta variant is the most concerning.

“Just in a matter of three or four weeks, we’ve seen Delta really establish itself in our community and then absolutely dominate making up 80 to 90+% of all the variants that we’re finding in our community,” Fitzgibbons said.

Fitzgibbons keeps a close watch on global, national, and local trends. She said COVID-19 trends on the Central Coast often lag a few weeks behind those of the Southern California region.

“Just as the rest of the region was a few weeks ahead of us with its explosion, I’m hopeful that as we follow the region, we will start to see some slowing in that acceleration,” she said.

Looking ahead, the biggest unknown, she said, is the start of the school year since children under the age of 12 are unvaccinated.

“Making sure that our kids get safely back into the classroom and we keep the Delta surge as well controlled as possible is perhaps the biggest challenge for the next 4-6 weeks,” Fitzgibbons said.

She said we can protect ourselves and others from the Delta variant by getting vaccinated and following safety protocols. Vaccines have shown to provide excellent protection from severe illness.

To learn more about COVID-19 or its variants, visit your County Public Health Department website.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.
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