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Roadmap to reopen during COVID-19 conditions has bumps but going forward

Santa Barbara County health officials have laid out a plan to help businesses meet the state criteria as part of the next phase of opening during the coronavirus crisis.
Dr. Henning Ansorg
John Palminteri
Santa Barbara County health officials have laid out a plan to help businesses meet the state criteria as part of the next phase of opening during the coronavirus crisis.(Photo:John Palminteri)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Even with the encouraging news about a phased reopening clearance from Governor Gavin Newsom, Santa Barbara County, as with all counties, will have to meet a long list of criteria to go forward.

Many boxes on that list are getting checked off this week.

It was called an, "extraordinary achievement in a short period of time," by Board of Supervisors Chairman Gregg Hart. "Nothing like this has ever been done in our community."

The process in Santa Barbara County is "often bogged down," said Hart, a veteran politician. "This is a moment that everyone is stepping into."

The county's plan is on its way for a review, but there will be an expected conversation on some of the specifics and implementation with state and federal health officials before it is approved.

The county is meeting the state requirements for testing now and the county health department says it can increase the capacity to test. The returns are now coming in with results from one to three days. It had been as high as seven. The original expectation was 48 hours. "So they are hitting that mark," said Public Health Director Dr. Von Do-Reynoso.

Hospitals right now can handle a surge of 35 percent which is another criteria that had to be met.

The plan also includes protections of essential workers and the vulnerable populations.

It needs 68 tracers and has 82 now and it is on track to have 113 tracers.

A plan for modifications is included should that be needed or required by the California Department of Public Health, if there is a significant upward change in the percentages of coronavirus cases that exceeds the approved criteria.

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg says, " we have the need to show that  in essence the   disease burden of Covid  is going down, is trending down,   which we can."

Businesses are going to be very active in crafting their reopening plans. It will be unique to the work they provide or service they deliver to the public. It includes safety measures for their workers and any customers. It is kept on file at the business and does not have to be sent to the county.

The county says this aspect of the reopening plan can begin now in the design or paperwork phase, but there will still be time before the word comes back from health officials to launch the complete process.

It's expected that the mandatory use of masks for workers and the public under certain conditions will be required. Those specifics are being worked out.

Businesses that want to make new or more modifications will have to go through permitting processes with local and state agencies, similar to what they would do before the virus crisis.

Among the new changes in this part of the current Phase 2 of reopening will include office space distancing in business, swap meets, shopping malls and dine-in restaurants.

After appropriate steps are taken, there will be a sticker in the business window for the public to view.

Supervisor Das Williams says "self certification" will help businesses get an approval quickly on line. He urged the county to have the protocol in place even if they still have to meet the criteria so the owners can prepare.

Information will be posted on:

The newly crafted RISE (Reopening in Safe Environment) guide by the county has all the links to state agencies or information. The county says it has made a process that is "user friendly."

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said, " businesses  obviously are trying to get ready so that when we give the thumbs up, they open that door."

Bars and gaming areas are not allowed in Stage 2. It is unclear to the county leaders as of Tuesday morning where the Chumash casino operations land in this criteria and process.

There's no word at this time about the criteria for schools to reopen.

Do-Reynoso also updated County Supervisors about visitors who are traveling from countries that have had massive COVID outbreaks. "We get notified. Typically we get the contact information, we trace them, we ask them where they are staying. We monitor them during the 14-quarantine period," she said.

As of Monday there 1496 total cases in Santa Barbara County. 64% are active. 35% are recovered The death total is less that 1%.

Currently the big focus is in the North County where there is a high incidents of the disease in Santa Maria has been reported in recent days. There is a plan for increase in health messaging, looking at the systems in place and looking at the environment where they are reported."

Do-Reynoso says, "that's how we box in this disease. That is our attempt. That is our state's attempt. Our country's attempt and our world's attempt."

Supervisors Peter Adam said, the "answer is no." He says he disagrees with the strategy the county is using. Economically he said, it will be a tremendous hardship with the impacts felt later this year in foreclosures of businesses.

"By doing it this way we're causing stuff you're not going to see until October, November, December in the form of foreclosures and bankruptcies," said Adam. In previous meetings he has also asked for comparative data of the seasonal influenza compared to COVID-19 and was told "by no means" are they looked at side-by-side because the coronavirus is much more deadly in the world without a vaccine.

Looking at the calendar, "we can not move into Stage 3 until the Governor moves the state into State 3," said Do-Reynoso. That could be weeks away depending on how Stage 2 results come back.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she wants to write a letter on behalf of wineries and tasting rooms, hoping they will be given the same considerations as restaurants. Currently they are not in the next phase under discussion.

The state rules say alcohol can only be sold in the environment where food is sold. That can be with a contracted food vendor. The county does not allow wineries to sell food at this time.

Santa Barbara County Vinters CEO Alison Laslett asked for some of the rules on food service be relaxed so the wineries and their tasting rooms can reopen again for guests.

The issue of homelessness as it related to the virus and sanitation issues was raised by Heal the Ocean Executive Director Hillary Hauser. She says there are 1800 homeless people in Santa Barbara with many still on the streets or in camps without adequate care or restrooms facilities. A recent GPS mapping of the camps was created.

A hotel in the south county with more than 60 beds has been used for some of the homeless who were willing to relocate. The county says it is near capacity and alternative sites are being considered.

For those hoping to see live performances soon, the county says concerts, conventions, and sports arenas will be among the last venues to open under the plan.

Watch for more details tonight on KEYT NewsChannel3, KCOY NewsChannel 12 and KKFX Fox 11.

(More information and video will be added here later today.)

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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