As Isla Vista residents returned from winter break and remote learning, so has the town’s infamous party culture.
Though COVID-19 case rates have been decreasing since the January 2022 surge, public health officials at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD) said that students should remain cautious and vigilant about public gatherings regardless.
In 2020, SBCPHD and the Board of Supervisors implemented and enforced Health Officer Order 2020-12.12, which prohibited “‘gatherings’ large and small, unless an exemption applies,” the Nexus reported in October 2020. The order was later removed as case rates decreased, and it was not reinstated during the 2021-22 winter surge despite case rates reaching an all-time high.
The highest number of cases last year in the county was on Jan. 10, 2021, with 779 cases. The peak of cases this year was 1,493 cases on Jan. 13, 2022.
As Isla Vista’s parties continue to occur despite the spread of COVID-19, SBCPHD Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said that gatherings — particularly indoor ones — have the potential to spread the virus.
“Large gatherings, particularly indoors, are known to be opportunities for the virus to spread rapidly. This is particularly the case as the Omicron variant is highly transmissible,” Ansorg said in a statement to the Nexus.
“Crowds indoors lead to high concentrations of respiratory droplets in the air. Ventilation can make a big difference, however, imagine loud music in a crowded space where you have to get close to your friend’s face or ear to be understood,” Ansorg continued. “Close proximity leads to sharing of respiratory plumes. Frequently one spends anywhere from 1-6 hours at a party. All of these factors combined make a crowded indoor venue cause very high viral transmission rates.”
Ansorg said that if students choose to gather in large groups, an outdoor venue would be the best option to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“If persons choose to gather, outdoors is always going to be the safest option … While our local case rate continues to decline, we must do everything possible to ensure we support this trend,” Ansorg said in his statement. “If you want to prevent infection with SARS-CoV2, you want to avoid crowded indoor venues.”
Ansorg recommended that students still take certain precautions, such as “getting vaccinated and boosted, staying home when you are ill, wearing a high quality and well sealing mask in indoor spaces and weigh[ing] your risk in attending events against its benefits if you are immunocompromised.”