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Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County’s Health Officer, said he was happy to see so many Santa Barbara businesses reopening in recent days, especially along State Street’s newly created pedestrian promenade. However, Ansorg lamented, he’s witnessed frequent and increasing instances of people not maintaining physical distancing. “This has us worried,” he said. That’s why he implemented the new health order that mandates wearing face masks inside, or waiting in line for, all businesses, he explained.
Ansorg acknowledged that there is conflicting scientific evidence around the efficacy of face masks during a viral pandemic. But while science is waiting to give us a definitive answer, he went on, we ought to take the precaution. “Face coverings are a simple gesture of shared respect to protect our neighbors,” said Supervisor Gregg Hart. “We are all in this together, and we will get through this together by taking care of each other.”
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Hart said he’s heard the objections over face masks. “I recognize some people see the new order as an intrusion on personal choice.” However, he explained, now that residents are mixing and interacting more among reopened stores and restaurants, the risk of transmission has been elevated. “If you want to keep businesses open, we must all share and commit to this new responsibility,” he said.
Over the next two to three weeks, Ansorg said, he and his team will be closely monitoring Santa Barbara’s COVID-19 data for any spikes in infections. And while face masks are now mandatory in more places, they are not a substitute for social distancing, he emphasized. That remains the most effective tool to slow the spread.
Hart also celebrated Santa Barbara’s economy coming back to life. “So much has progressed in the last few days that it is almost breathtaking,” he said. Many restaurants and retail stores did brisk business over the holiday weekend, he said, and gas sales are back to nearly 70 percent of pre-COVID levels. Churches are again allowed in-person services, and hair salons and barber shops are back at work. “They are bracing to fix do-it-yourself haircuts and colorings gone wrong,” Hart joked, wishing he still had enough hair to require a trim.
The timing of the new face mask order is to support the reopening of even more local businesses but also ensure we’re doing everything we can to prevent community transmission, Hart said. “We need to reopen our economy and we need to be safe.”
As of Wednesday, May 28, Santa Barbara County reported 20 new cases of COVID-19, 12 of them in the City of Santa Maria and five in the City of Santa Barbara. No new cases were reported at the Lompoc prison complex, though county officials have yet to acknowledge the third death there, which was reflected in federal data published earlier this week. Of the county’s 1,624 total confirmed cases, including more than 1,000 at the prison complex, 1,396 have recovered. Thirteen people have died.
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