The News Letter: Breaking the Mask Habit

The Mask Habit Is a Hard One to Break

While we humans readjust to our new freedoms, three endangered snowy plover chicks ― once described to me by a biologist as “cotton balls on toothpicks” ― take their first steps. | Credit: Chuck Graham (file)

To mask, or not to mask? That remains a question.

Despite county health authorities announcing this Tuesday that mask-wearing, social distancing, and most other COVID mandates have finally come to an end, some Santa Barbarans are still choosing to cover their faces while out and about. Who can blame them? After a hard, habit-forming 15 months of living in the vice grip of a pandemic, it’s not easy to now simply throw your caution and your virus shield to the wind.

Some rules still exist ― masks must be worn by everyone on planes, trains, and public automobiles; all K-12 students while in class; and attendees of large events, defined as 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 outdoors. Private businesses can also require masks of customers if they can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated. (State officials just unveiled a new system by which residents can access a digital copy of their vaccination record. Find it here.)

It’s interesting to see how this last point plays out in the real world. Based on my recent forays along State Street and Carpinteria’s Linden Avenue, many restaurants and shops ― despite old signs in their windows that say masks are mandatory ― are allowing anyone and everyone inside, face-coverings and proof of vaccine or not.

People, it seems, are taking their cues from others. If they’re in a business where most customers are masked up, they may be more inclined to don their own. But if they look around and see a lot of naked faces, their face covering might stay in their pocket or purse. It’s the latest chapter in the ongoing social experiment of mask etiquette.

While Tuesday’s announcement was certainly cause for celebration, a few sobering facts were also revealed. In the past 453 days, 452 of our Santa Barbara neighbors have died of COVID-19. Nearly 35,000 got infected, and hundreds were hospitalized.

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The virus, we also learned, has not been an equal-opportunity infector, and vaccines have not been distributed in proportional numbers. While Hispanic people make up 48 percent of the county’s total population, they have accounted for 59 percent of cases, 67 percent of hospitalizations, and 50 percent of deaths. So far, they’ve only received 27 percent of available vaccinations.

In other news, Santa Barbara’s home sales market continues to defy gravity, with the median home price increasing from $1.5 million last July to $2 million this May. At the same time, the average number of days a property is staying on the market plummeted from 25 to nine. As you read this, only five single-family homes are currently on the market for $1 million or less; by contrast, there are 77 listings at $3 million or more.

Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife, philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott, gave $20 million to Santa Barbara City College to fund various campus initiatives and programs and help the college contend with its recent decline in enrollment. This year, Scott has so far donated $2.7 billion of her estimated $60 billion fortune to 286 different recipients, among them 30 colleges. She also gave $15 million to CSU Channel Islands.

And in yet another example of nature healing itself while we humans hibernated in various stages of lockdown, three endangered snowy plover chicks hatched just after 8 a.m. on June 8 on Carpinteria State Beach. It marked the first time the pugnacious little shorebirds have successfully nested there since 1960. The “cotton balls on toothpicks,” as a biologist one time described them to me, are now using their proportionally large feet to maneuver the soft sand and eat kelp flies.

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