Parts of downtown and the popular Funk Zone neighborhood looked like ghost towns following Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Though State Street is largely empty this week, groups of young people can still be found clustered on Santa Barbara’s beaches, seemingly unaware of the global pandemic infecting their community.

Most Santa Barbarans, however, are painfully informed about the planet’s current health crisis ​— ​overwhelmed by news about it, losing jobs because of it, and for parents, turning into full-time home-school teachers during it. Still many are still confused about Governor Newsom’s executive order to shelter in place. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

What is considered an essential business and who are its workers? Pot dispensaries, farmers’ markets, liquor stores that sell food, laundromats, and any restaurant delivering food and alcoholic beverages are all considered essential during the shelter-in-place order. Dining in restaurants, drinking in bars, and hanging out in theaters, clubs, or music venues is illegal. Of course, grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and other critical government functions are considered essential, too. The full list is broken down at

A view of an empty State Street and empty restaurant patios.

If your work is not on the 14-page document, it isn’t essential and you must stay home.

So if my work isn’t considered essential, can I leave my house? Fresh air and Santa Barbara sunshine aren’t illegal. In fact, going outside for a walk or to exercise is almost essential for maintaining good mental health. Just be sure to keep six feet between yourself and others ​— ​the minimum amount for social distancing. And of course, you can always leave the house to get food, medications, or health care.

If you are leaving the house to run one of these essential errands, keep social distancing in mind. If you don’t own a car and can’t walk, MTD is considered an essential service and is still running in town, fare free, with the exception of some lines. Other forms of transportation such as taxis, Uber, and Lyft are also considered essential services so long as riders practice social distancing and are using the rides to obtain essential services.

Can I get arrested if I ignore the order and go out anyway? Technically, yes. Realistically, no. Because it’s an order ​— ​not a recommendation ​— ​it is enforceable with a misdemeanor or fine. But at least for those under the order in Santa Barbara, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“Although this Public Health Order can be enforced through citations or arrests if violated, we are encouraging our personnel to educate the public and exercise discretion in obtaining voluntary compliance,” wrote Sheriff Bill Brown in a statement also signed by the county’s other nine law enforcement chiefs. “Make no mistake, however, in understanding that we will be steadfast and diligent in seeking out and bringing to justice criminal offenders who attempt to take advantage of this situation.”

Don’t be that person. Practice social distancing, adhere to the order, and help flatten the curve.


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