Santa Barbara Supes Screw Up on COVID Letter to Governor

Now Is Not the Time to Demand Churches Be Allowed to Reopen for Indoor Services

Santa Barbara County Supervisors Das Williams (Top left) and Steve Lavagnino (Bottom left), and Governor Gavin Newsom. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

LET THEM EAT CROW:  250,000. It’s the sort of milestone number that begs acknowledgement. Actually, the number as of this writing is 251,506. That’s people who died from COVID. If you’re not one of them, that’s a pretty good reason to be thankful and also a good reason to take precautions.

Maybe, for example, now is not a good time to take a trip to visit with your loved ones. 

Or maybe for the 50 percent of this country who are still reluctant to wear masks, maybe this is a good time to put one on. Masks make you look sexy, mysterious, and alluring. 

It’s a fact.

And I’m not even lying.

Speaking of lying, I’d call your attention to our governor, Gavin Newsom. He’s been on the receiving end of much well-deserved grief for attending a group get-together a couple of weeks ago with his good buddy and lobbyist extraordinaire Jason Kinney to celebrate Kinney’s 50th birthday at the French Laundry, an epicurean wet dream of a restaurant where you can get a fine meal with all the trimmings for $450. I think the tip is included.

Newsom has since been forced to eat much post-celebratory crow over this outing and has apologized profusely. He sought to garnish the feathers by pointing out the event took place mostly outdoors. Maybe that’s even true. But photos of the event released since the governor’s crow-eating indicate the festivities took mostly — if not exclusively— indoors. And none of the participants shown are wearing masks. 

At a time when California hospitals are now bulging with bodies, this was hardly a fortuitous moment for Newsom’s do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach. Now is the time to have someone at the top whose word can be taken seriously. For this to come out just as Newsom bumped most of the state back into the purple tier — the most restrictive — qualifies as a really bad case of what the experts like to call “optics.” 

Kinney and the governor go back 20 years. Kinney is a talented guy and Newsom’s valued political consigliere. He was also chief spokesperson for the campaign to legalize cannabis recreationally back in 2016. He since started his own firm, Axiom, which has a branch office right here in Santa Barbara’s historic El Paseo courtyard. All roads, it seems, inevitably lead back to cannabis, especially here in Santa Barbara. I am told that with enough cannabis, you can stimulate your appetite so that even crow tastes good.

Kinney’s firm also represents the California Medical Association (whose chief lobbyist was also at the birthday bash), the amusement park industry, and Marathon Petroleum. He covers a lot of territory.

In the meantime, the COVID numbers just keep getting worse. The number of people hospitalized throughout the country has doubled in the past week and is now hovering at 77,000 patients. In especially hard-hit regions, hospitals are converting garages and cafeterias to find enough space. Every day in the past week, we set a new record. And when it comes to deaths, we are averaging 1,158 new ones a day.

Maybe it’s time to revise the famous old motto “Live Free or Die.” In the current context, it should be “Live Free and Die.” 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation just released a study projecting that if we had instituted an across-the-board policy of wearing masks back in September, 130,000 lives would be saved between then and the end of February. But they must be part of the ongoing conspiracy hatched by the “Medical Deep State” to sabotage the reelection of our feckless leader. For those still skeptical about the efficacy of masks, the Department of Defense — in conjunction with United Airlines — released a recent simulation study concluding that if people wear masks on planes, then only .003 percent of their aerosolized sputum particles can get into the breathing space of fellow travelers. The Department of Defense must be part of the Medical Deep State conspiracy, as well.

Lastly, the L.A. Times reported that in Singapore, the government deploys squads of mask enforcers wearing red shirts to nag, scold, and reprimand those not wearing masks. These “Red Ants,” as they’re called, are typically workers who lost their jobs because of COVID. Singapore has a population of 5.8 million. Right now, it has 61 active cases. To date, 28 people have died. 

Santa Barbara County, by contrast, has a population of 425,000. To date, we’ve had 133 deaths. Right now, we have 300 active cases and 19 hospitalized. 

Relatively speaking, we’re doing great. By contrast, Los Angeles County has had 7,335 deaths so far — the second highest in the country — and 348,336 cases, the most of any county. Thankfully, we have a nice bubble between us and Los Angeles. But it’s not that big, and it’s not that far. Especially with Thanksgiving around the corner. 

In that context, I was flabbergasted the county supervisors would vote — 3-2 to be fair — to send the governor a letter demanding that churches be allowed to reopen their doors for indoor services. 

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino argued that if retail shops are allowed to open their doors to customers — if they can keep it at 25 percent capacity or less — under the new purple restrictions, then churches should be allowed to have their congregants come inside too. Under the purple rules, churches can hold prayer services but only outside. Joining Lavagnino were supervisors Das Williams and Peter Adam.

It’s a bad argument and a false analogy. When people go to church, it’s usually for more than an hour. Usually, you’re standing and sitting up close and personal for the duration of that time. And you sing.

Singing is banned on State Street for a reason. When you sing, you open your mouth, and you blast out a firehose of aerosolized love. Anyone sitting near you — and not that near — is breathing it in. Maybe some churches require masks. But social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

I don’t want to deprive anyone of their right to worship. That’s why God invented parking lots and folding chairs. When I went to Catholic school, I was taught God is everywhere. You can talk to him/her/we/you/them pretty much anywhere.

County Public Health czar Van Do-Reynoso, to her credit, stated she would be very uncomfortable writing such a letter. She herself attends Mass every week. It was a bad message to send, she said, and the wrong time to send it.

Holding the line for sanity were supervisors Gregg Hart and Joan Hartmann.

To be honest, the only time I go to church these days is for funerals.

But that’s just the problem.



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