Rarely has red been a comforting color, associated as it is with danger, violence, and passion. But if Santa Barbara County stays in California’s coronavirus red tier, by next Tuesday, retail, restaurants, and theaters will be able to let the public back inside their doors.
The county remains on track to enter the less-restrictive red tier next week chiefly because of public cooperation in wearing face coverings to avoid coronavirus infections, county officials said on Friday at a press conference. Mask wearing since the governor’s mandatory order in June has steadily decreased the number of COVID-19 cases in both California and the County of Santa Barbara, Supervisor Gregg Hart stated. He held out the hope that businesses could reopen indoors next Tuesday if virus cases continued to trend downward. Schools could open to in-person instruction as early as two weeks after that, but with care.
“We want businesses to be prepared, to be able to plan in advance,” Hart said. “We anticipate good news but it’s not official until it’s announced on Tuesday.”
The state will notify Santa Barbara County on Monday if it has succeeded in staying below the red tier’s 7 percent case-rate for two weeks. Santa Barbara is currently at 6.7 percent and is approaching the two-week mark. A second score concerns testing positivity, which has a goal of 8 percent. The county is actually at 4.3 percent, which is the next tier down, or orange. Yellow is the last tier and indicates “minimal” cases of fewer than one per 100,000 people in a county.
The county’s Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg made a rare appearance to warn of increasing coronavirus cases among young people. People in their twenties and thirties comprised 40 percent of all positive tests in California since August, Ansorg said. At 23 percent, the rate for people in their twenties was the highest yet. He added that despite their youth, a recent study found a 2.7 percent death rate among 18-34 year olds. Ten percent went on a ventilator if admitted to a hospital, and 21 percent required admission to an intensive care unit. Santa Barbara County reported the first death of a person in the 18-29 age group on September 18; the individual had underlying conditions, Public Health stated.
“If we are going to get this disease under control, we need more cooperation from young people. Please influence your peers to take this seriously,” Ansorg said. “Please protect yourself and your friends and family, and the whole community, by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing,” he pled.
Ansorg also outlined progress in the school waiver process, for which 30 schools had applied. Two applications were at the state health department for final approval, and none had yet been denied. “Once we are in the red tier, all K-12 schools will be allowed to open after two weeks,” Ansorg said. “That is potentially October 13.” Hart added that the decision to reopen public schools was up to school board members, who had to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.
“We know this has been a long and arduous process for so many in the community,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso. She heads the county’s Public Health Department and gave more detailed information on the businesses that could open if the downward trend continues. Retail businesses could increase their indoor headcount from 25 percent of capacity to 50 percent, she said. Restaurants, movie theaters, and places of worship could open at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Museums and zoos could open at 25 percent indoor capacity. Gyms and fitness centers could open indoors at a 10 percent capacity. Personal care services could open indoors with modifications.
The public response to testing has kept the county’s test positivity numbers trending downward, Do-Reynoso said. The new Goleta Valley Community Center testing site replaced the Earl Warren Showgrounds site and remains popular; it takes several days to get an appointment. Do-Reynoso advised that the Buellton and Santa Maria test centers were less crowded. She said to check the state’s covid19.ca.gov webpage for other testing locations in Santa Barbara County.
Dr. Ansorg is preparing his order to enter the red tier’s modification, said Hart, and the Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to announce whether Santa Barbara County will take the red step toward greater normalcy.