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As businesses have started to reopen in Santa Barbara County, the spread of COVID-19 has so far stayed manageable — so much so that the county’s Director of Public Health Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said the county is “well-poised” to enter into the next phase of reopening.
“We want to wait another week to look at Memorial Day openings and see how different sectors opening are affecting the spread of COVID-19 [before reopening further],” Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso referenced the holiday weekend specifically because it was the first weekend State Street closed to cars and expanded dining tables out onto the sidewalks to accommodate socially distanced dine-in restaurants. Friday will mark two weeks since, when data will more accurately reflect how much the virus spread as a result of the reopening. The data will determine whether the county should advance toward opening up more or scaling back.
Though all of the supervisors the county’s Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend, the only mention of the thousands of protesters who flooded the streets by Do-Reynoso was a reference near the end of her report that her department was “wondering what the effect of these mass gatherings this past week will have.” Almost all of the protesters wore masks, but the massive crowd size made social distancing impossible.
Do-Reynoso presented the board with the new Reopening Metrics Dashboard on the Public Health Department’s website that tracks key indicators from the state that allow for the county to further reopen the economy. Updated daily, it presents new data that is accessible to the public which was previously only released during Board of Supervisors hearings. One highlight is the hospital stabilization metric, for example, which shows whether the county is meeting the requirement for a seven-day average of a less than 5 percent daily change in hospitalizations.
The county has also reopened businesses in later stages of Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan for reopening. Though the county is currently in stage two, it has allowed in-person religious ceremonies and hair salons to reopen, which are part of phase three, because the governor issued guidelines specifically for those sectors.
Because the county is still meeting the epidemiological requirements for reopening, the next step is likely a short way away. As long as state guidelines for a specific sector are released, counties meeting the requirements can reopen those businesses. The only sector left to reopen in phase two is the schools and day camps sector.
“The governor will tell us how to reopen, and the local health department will say when,” Do-Reynoso said. “We are anxiously awaiting guidance on schools and day camps, and it’s our number-one priority.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams urged Do-Reynoso to be more aggressive with the state about providing guidelines for schools and day camps. He pointed out that other counties that have met the criteria like Santa Barbara are opening anyway, so it feels that Santa Barbara is being “punished” for asking the state to provide guidance.
“I think that a week ago the [state public health department] was a little more hopeful that they would release it by last week, but now they are saying there is no ETA,” Do-Reynoso said. “So we’re getting a little bit desperate, and we’ll be sending a few more emails up asking when is this coming.”
Nancy Anderson, assistant CEO of the county, reported which sectors are successfully reopening. Dine-in restaurants, retail stores, and barber shops are the top three that self-certified with the county for reopening. Countywide, 1,505 businesses submitted reopening self-certification. The self-certification is free and requires businesses to implement industry-specific guidelines and create a protection plan.
She also said that through the Small Business and Community Partnership Enhancement Program, or SBCPEP, businesses in unincorporated areas of the county can expand into the public roadway or sidewalks like some restaurants along State Street. She said only businesses already authorized to reopen in the county’s RISE Guide or the state can get one of the permits.
Though dine-in restaurants are up and running, wineries, breweries, and other kinds of tasting rooms are still not permitted for reopening by the state. Anderson also highlighted a loophole for such businesses that allows them to reopen as restaurants by granting them a limited-term food permit, so long as they still meet all reopening requirements.
“We only have 24 percent of [phase two] businesses that went through this thing even though we probably have 100 percent of [phase two] businesses open, or close to that, so I think we need to address that it doesn’t cost anything to get these permits,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
Anderson also emphasized that RISE ambassadors, who will function similarly to a food service inspector except they will inspect COVID-19 safety measures, will “make the rounds” to all opened businesses to assist with reopening and ensure all county and state standards are met. Businesses can also call and ask for an ambassador to come and help, too.
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+.