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It may not have been completely out of the blue, but this weekend’s announcement that Governor Gavin Newsom recommended that bars and brewpubs in Santa Barbara County be shut down caught many elected officials here by surprise. While the governor’s recommendation appears distinctly at odds with Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg’s decision late last week to open up personal service businesses — nail salons, massage therapy, and the like — it appears likely that county health officials are poised to go along with the proposed shutdown.
Nancy Anderson, the county’s senior administrator charged with overseeing the reopening of the county’s economy, sent out a mass email explaining that the county will be issuing a new health order later Monday announcing that bars and brewpubs will be closed down effective this Wednesday. This order, however, does not apply to wine tasting rooms or to bars that provide patrons with the opportunity of sit-down meals. Because many bars and brewpubs serve food, it’s not clear how many businesses will actually be affected.
Governor Newsom announced this Sunday that bars and brewpubs would be shut down in seven counties and recommended a similar shut down in eight others. At the time of the governor’s announcement, Santa Barbara fell into the latter camp. But as of today, it appears the county could well fall within the former camp of mandatory closure. State public health authorities have been monitoring the health metrics of all 58 counties for their COVID-19 caseloads. As of Sunday, Santa Barbara County appeared to have exceeded the state’s threshold when it came to the rate of new reported cases and new hospitalizations for 13 days. By Monday, that number hit 14. And that number is the threshold for the state’s mandatory shutdown order.
Newsom’s announcement came one week before the Fourth of July weekend, traditionally a major event for large crowds and mass revelry. It also came as California’s COVID numbers continue to rise in terms of total cases — 216,550 — and new hospitalizations and new deaths — now pushing 6,000. Worldwide, the COVID numbers have now eclipsed 10 million cases and more than 500,000 deaths. The United States accounts for more than one-fourth of those deaths, and with 29 states reporting serious increases in COVID cases, the United Kingdom has announced it is no longer allowing tourists from the United States to disembark.
Although the number of new cases countywide was increasing when Ansorg announced the reopening of personal care businesses, he noted that the number of active cases was, in fact, going down. Likewise, he said, the number of hospitalizations was starting to drop. (The key question for state public health officials, however, is for how many days that drop in hospitalization has taken place.) Although the number of COVID patients assigned to intensive care units had increased, he pointed out, the rate of increase still fell within the capacity of county hospitals to accommodate.
Ansorg is quick to point out that one week of COVID “is like an eternity.” Things change a lot. Fast. Just the week prior, Ansorg famously relayed the urgency with which hospital clinicians were regarding the rise in countywide numbers: ‘“Dude, do something!’” he quoted them as imploring him.
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson said she hopes county officials abide by the governor’s recommendations to close down bars and brewpubs for the time being. “It’s my hope that they do this,” she stated. Bars were singled out because, she said, because “these are places where decision-making is not always the best.” According to the governor’s edict this weekend, bars are problematic because non-related strangers congregate in them for extended periods of time, while drinking, and are forced to speak loudly to be heard above the ambient din, thus expanding the spray radius of droplets shooting out of their mouths.
Jackson said the new numbers indicate that younger people are getting infected more than previously and that they’re getting sick as well. It can no longer be dismissed, she noted, as a virus that afflicts just the old and the infirm. She expressed frustration that law enforcement agencies have been loath to enforce the state’s social-distancing requirements. “I’d like to see law enforcement take this a little more seriously,” she said. “There needs to be a more aggressive presence, but delicately applied.”
Jackson acknowledged that the majority of county COVID cases are found in Santa Maria, but she added that the numbers in South County are going up as well, albeit not as dramatically. Last week, she noted, UCSB Chancellor Yang reported the first cluster of COVID cases for Isla Vista. “There are now five cases in Isla Vista,” Jackson said. “Given the density there, that could be serious. For a long time, there weren’t any.”
For the economy to be opened up, Jackson said, everyone needs to do more to observe social-distancing safety protocols. “We all have to be more responsible. You have to remember this is a disease for which there is no cure, and no vaccine, so it’s really up to us.” During World War II, Jackson added, people in England were forced to take to underground air-raid shelters on a nightly basis. “Here, we’re asking people to wear a mask, stay six feet from each other, and stay indoors. That’s not asking too much. We will survive.”
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+.