Santa Barbara Should Mandate COVID Protections

Only Other Option Places the Burden on Business

Credit: Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, UT

Santa Barbara County has required all persons two years old and older to wear masks in indoor public settings. The county should go further. It should follow San Francisco’s lead and require proof of full vaccinations for patrons at high risk indoor establishments and that employers require employees to be vaccinated.

The justification for these mandates is simple. The FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, and COVID, in the form of the Delta variant, is on the rise in our county. In other words, there is no rational reason for not getting vaccinated, and there is every moral and public-health reason for ensuring people are vaccinated.

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials report Delta makes up the majority of the 2,500 new cases reported in August. COVID patients now occupy 64.5 percent of all Santa Barbara County hospital beds and 76.6 percent of all intensive-care beds. Fully 89 percent of these patients were not vaccinated. As a result, Cottage Health is, as it should, requiring employees and visitors to be vaccinated, or show a negative test within 72 hours.

Nevertheless, 37.4 percent of our residents (142,006) remain unvaccinated. As I said in my latest article, viruses as part of their life cycle mutate, often becoming more transmissible and virulent; as is the case with Delta. If we’re honest about it, we may be living with COVID for the foreseeable future. None of us want to go back to lockdowns and overcrowded hospitals, as parts of the South are experiencing.

At this point, vaccinations, masks, and distancing are more about protecting others rather than one’s self. That’s the only way we’re are going to end the pandemic. Viruses spread; that’s how they stay alive. If this one keeps spreading, we will be forced back into isolation. Unfortunately, public stores, like grocery markets, will have to enforce the mask mandate. We can’t have customers confronting one another. If that means they have to hire security to enforce the mandate, so be it. They can increase the price of their goods and services slightly to pay for the security.

Santa Barbara employers, like Cottage Health and other businesses around the county, should require their employees to be vaccinated. Santa Barbara should follow San Francisco’s lead and require proof of vaccinations for indoor entertainment businesses like bars and restaurants. And, Santa Barbara local governments should follow Cottage Health’s lead and ensure all employees either provide vaccination proof, or 72-hour negative testing.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health is requiring proof of full vaccinations at such indoor establishments as: restaurants, bars, clubs, theaters, and entrainment venues (bowling alleys, arcades et al.), and at businesses like gyms where clients’ breathing is elevated. If we don’t do the same, we are only prolonging the illness, death, and psychological trauma being caused by the pandemic. The virus is not going away on its own. Those afraid of vaccinations, or not getting them for political reasons, are not going to change and suddenly line up to be vaccinated. Even though there will be an uproar over the imposition of mandates, it’s the right thing to do.

We are at the point where employees and customers with COVID, regardless of their symptoms, are not only hurting themselves, they are endangering other people while prolonging and spreading the virus amongst us.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think local Santa Barbara governments have the political will to mandate these protections. I know this is more than uncomfortable. It’s unconscionable that this burden of protecting us is falling on the private sector. But, it has to be done. We are living through a pandemic in a fight with an invisible enemy that can kill us. The only other choices are more disease or hiding from the virus.


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