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California Governor Gavin Newsom issued new orders and recommendations regarding bar closures in response to the state’s escalating spike in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Santa Barbara County — like Ventura — fell onto the recommended list. It remains uncertain what impact, if any, this new directive will have in Santa Barbara; efforts to get a reaction from county health spokespersons has thus far not yielded a response.
Santa Barbara has been reporting a steady spike in new cases over the past few weeks; on Friday, the latest number was 81. In spite of that, county health officials announced that they were expanding the businesses that could re-open to include massage parlors, nail salons, and a list of other personal service enterprises that includes among other things genital piercing. Public Health officials stated that despite the rise in number of new confirmed cases, the number of active cases has been dropping. Intensive care unit referrals have been increasing, but the numbers remain relatively low.
California is one of the 29 states reporting an increase in COVID cases and, in fact, is one of the states reporting the steepest acceleration. But with 58 counties, the on-the-ground medical challenges posed by the virus vary dramatically. Even within given counties, there are stark differences. In Santa Barbara County, the majority of current active cases are taking place in Santa Maria, largely due to that city’s poverty-driven housing densities.
Santa Barbara health officials have struggled to maintain a clear and consistent message in the face of its ever-shifting COVID statistics. On June 19, for example, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg was significantly alarmed that the county’s hospital facilities could find themselves challenged to accommodate a sudden spike that seemed within the realm of possibility, if not likelihood, at the time. Ansorg famously stated that he’d been implored by medical clinicians dealing with COVID, “Dude, do something.” Since then, however, the number of hospitalizations began to slightly dip. Local medical facilities, he has since concluded, are ample to meet the expected demand.
Given these realities, County Supervisor Gregg Hart argued it would be unfair to prevent personal care providers from opening their doors. State guidelines would have allowed the county to open these businesses a week ago. In response to the alarm Ansorg articulated, that opening was delayed by one week.
Hart argued that the biggest threat posed by COVID is largely invisible and concentrated up in Santa Maria. Cracking down on face-mask scofflaws, as has been suggested, would do little to help people who have no choice but to go to work and who lack the resources to socially distance in quarters that are notoriously cramped.
Hart did say that county inspectors with Environmental Health Services have been more aggressively inspecting restaurants to ensure social distancing safety rules are adhered to. Likewise, he said about 20 county “ambassadors” have been deployed to ensure greater compliance.