Pandemic Progress: Santa Barbara County Inching Toward Opening

County’s First-Ever Community Testing Site to Open Tuesday

Santa Barbara County Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

There is light at the COVID tunnel for the first time in months.

The county’s first community-based testing site that was announced last week will open tomorrow, and Governor Gavin Newsom announced earlier today that some retail stores can reopen for drop off or pick up as early as Friday.

“We are excited that tomorrow will be our first day of COVID testing at the community-based testing site in Santa Maria,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director. “At this time, all 132 appointments for the first day have been filled, and the rest of the testing schedule is quickly filling up.”

She said that later this week, two more sites are opening up in Lompoc and Santa Barbara. She emphasized that the testing is available to residents regardless of their immigration status, whether they have medical insurance, or if they are homeless. Appointments can be made by calling (888) 634-1123.

Newsom’s reopening announcement signals the beginning of phase two in his four-phase plan to fully reopen the state. He listed specific “safe” types of retail businesses that can open for pickup in the coming week, like bookstores, music stores, toy stores, and florists. The modified reopenings are some of the first baby steps.

How the reopening will look in Santa Barbara County is still unclear. Newsom said more detailed guidelines would be released Thursday, and when asked about which local businesses fit the bill, Supervisor Gregg Hart and Do-Reynoso ultimately said they can’t know until Newsom presents more guidance.

Some businesses have already provided a preview into what limited openings might look like. Nick Rail Music has been open for the past three weeks because musical instrument repair is considered an essential service. 

“We took a small break until our small business loan came through,” said Mike Evans, who manages the Santa Barbara store. “But as far as I know, no one has been let go.” 

Only one customer has been allowed into Nick Rail at a time, as the store is small. Even with some curbside service, Evans said business is “terribly slow.”

But the businesses that haven’t been open are thrilled because slow business is better than none at all. Bookstores, one of the retail businesses identified by Governor Newsom as able to open for pickup Friday, have been hit hard by the closings in Santa Barbara. 

“We’ll be very pleased if we’re allowed to reopen in even a limited way,” said Greg Feitt, store manager of Chaucer’s Books. He said his staff has been filling telephone and online orders for customers for the past six weeks. “It’s a lot of work and we’re not making nearly the revenue we would if our doors were open. But it’s keeping us stable-ish.” Feitt emphasized the need to open safely — for his customers and his staff: “We’re doing it as safely as possible. And if we can’t do it safely, we won’t do it.”

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg also reported 12 new COVID-19 cases today, pushing the county’s total to 526. The vast majority — 404 people — have fully recovered. As for those still sick, 65 are recovering at home; 39 are recovering in a hospital, 13 of whom are in an intensive care unit; 10 are still pending information. Eight people have died altogether. 

Of today’s 12 cases, three reside in Santa Barbara, one resides in the unincorporated areas of Goleta Valley and Gaviota, one resides in Orcutt, and seven reside in Santa Maria.  

“The commitment we made together to protect ourselves these past six weeks has worked, and we will soon be entering the next phase together,” Supervisor Hart said. “The very good news the governor shared today does not in anyway change the imperative we each share to continue to do the right thing and look out for each other.”

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