Week One of the Santa Barbara Shutdown

Reports on How Coronavirus Has Changed Our Lives Forever

Published March 19, 2020

Imagine a nuclear winter without an atomic bomb, a raging wildfire with no yesterday or tomorrow, and the utterly overwhelming economic disruption caused by a general strike. If you combine all that, then maybe, just maybe, you will get an inkling of what we’re all facing.

The word unprecedented has been used an awful lot lately. When Santa Barbara County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg, now approaching his first 365 days on the job, was expressing his dismay at how much time he spent just learning about the looming pandemic, let alone reacting to it, and then communicating about it, he felt that was unprecedented. But that was last week. Since then, things have gotten a whole lot more unprecedented.

The United States has yet to feel the full fury of COVID-19, the flu that is not a flu, a brand-new disease with no vaccine, no cure, and no immunity. Santa Barbara has gotten off relatively unscathed: no deaths, no hospitalizations, and only two confirmed cases. So far. Even so, our world has been turned upside down and inside out. Schools have been canceled, UCSB placed on virtual reality lockdown, movies banned, bowling banned, concerts banned, bars banned, and restaurants banned. Any commercial mass-indoor activity that induces the production of human sweat will be verboten: yoga, dancing, spinning. Paradise has become a ghost town. The Santa Barbara courthouse has been closed until further notice. Parks have been shut down.

The economic implications are already beginning to be felt. One downtown restaurant owner just laid off 350 workers. A well-known coffeehouse entrepreneur laid off another 26. Landlords ​— ​both commercial and residential ​— ​are being told they can’t evict tenants. Social distancing, we are told, is the only way to “flatten out the curve.” That’s public-health speak to slow down the onslaught so the 62 hospital rooms Santa Barbara County has that are equipped to handle the disease aren’t overwhelmed. That’s like catching the contents of a fire hose in a shot glass. It may seem impossible, but it’s our only hope. Other countries managed to pull it off. In the meantime, what we know today is obsolete tomorrow.

The situation, the experts say, is extremely fluid, the same way Niagara Falls is fluid. As Santa Barbara scrambles to come to terms with something for which no terms exist, the staff at the Independent has scrambled as well. This is what we’ve found out. By next week, it will all be different.

— Nick Welsh