Rep. Salud Carbajal stated the extra federal stimulus money was needed by unemployed workers. One constituent who was laid off as a result of COVID-19, Carbajal said, had a health condition and couldn't simply find a new job. "The extra $600 per week has made a world of difference to individuals like him.” | Credit: Paul Wellman File

On Wednesday evening, May 13, elected officials from the county, state, and federal levels teamed up with local health officials and business groups to discuss potential steps toward achieving the benchmarks that would allow Santa Barbara to enter Phase II of Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to loosen the stay-at-home orders. Congressmember Salud Carbajal, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Assemblymember Monique Limon were joined by county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso and county CEO Mona Miyasato, among others, as they discussed concerns and laid out a roadmap for next steps. 

If there was one consistent theme from the meeting, it was that while solid progress has been made, Santa Barbara County is by no means out of the woods yet, and that residents should stay vigilant, despite the understandable fatigue that can set in after almost two months of sheltering in place. “We understand that there’s a lot of stress, anxiety, and frustration. We’ve been isolating for 56 days, and we all want a return to normalcy. But this won’t be the flip of the switch. Residents can trust that these steps will be gradual and based on science,” said Rep. Carbajal. 

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The conversation centered around gradually reopening some businesses if and when the county achieves certain testing, contact tracing, and hospital capacity benchmarks. “In Phase II, we’ll be making huge transition from essential businesses to low-risk business opening,” said Bruce Stenslie, president of the Economic Development Collaborative. 

Officials from both Santa Barbara and Ventura County lauded the mostly cooperative nature of local businesses and residents, and the hard work by county authorities to expand necessary resources. County officials celebrated the opening of three community testing centers in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara. On Friday, May 15, a supplemental guide to Governor Newsom’s benchmarks that had been prepared by Santa Barbara officials and business owners was released. Known the RISE guide, it listed way that local businesses could prepare to reopen safely.  

But in Santa Barbara, there’s a hangup: The federal penitentiary in Lompoc has seen an alarming outbreak of COVID-19 that is sweeping through the prison, and it has rendered Santa Barbara’s chances of meeting a key requirement for moving to Phase II — going 14 days without a single COVID-related death and reporting no more than four new active cases a day — “wholeheartedly not attainable,” in the words of an official on the call. With only half of the facility having been tested, 912 inmates and 25 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Lawmakers are speaking with state authorities to allow Santa Barbara to move forward with Phase II, since the prison, which is outside the authority of both the county and the State of California, skews the county’s numbers and masks the substantial progress that has been made. “We’re talking with the governor, since neither the State of California, and certainly not the county, have control over what goes on in that prison,” said Sen. Jackson.

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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