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Intense mask outreach message leads renewed effort to battle COVID-19 as overflow plan is developed

Protect Respect
A Protect-Respect campaign to encourage the public to wear a mask is featuring prominent local residents and elected officials.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County is ramping up its public messaging about wearing masks during the COVID-19 crisis as a vital form of protection and a way to slow the virus spread.

The Board of Supervisors also has serious concerns about the high level of cases in the agricultural communities. In Santa Maria, statistics show one in five of the virus cases are related to agricultural. Countywide it's slightly lower.

A detailed presentation Tuesday morning went over the latest numbers, areas where there are spikes, and the Governor's latest orders on business restrictions.

In a clarification request, activities that "were banned, then they weren't and now they are," asked Supervisor Peter Adam, "can they still be done?"

The health department says all those activities can be done outdoors.

Outside concerts and theaters such as the PCPA theaterfest, or concerts at the Santa Barbara Bowl are still not allowed.

One barber shop in Santa Barbara has moved two chairs outside on State St. to stay open.

Some members of the public phoned the meeting remotely asking for more protections for agricultural workers, their housing, and access to healthy work environments.

The county is also preparing for the possible need to have additional hospital space if there is a rise in COVID-19 cases, along with other hospitalizations, that exceed the county's capacity.

An agreement has been worked out with the Rippan Property LLC at the La Cumbre Plaza to use the Sears site for hospitalization. Sears closed in January of 2019. The site has remained vacant and is considered as a safe location for the patients if it is put into service.

To do that, upgrades that could run in excess of $1-million would have to take place.

"It makes me cringe to spend  potentially spend millions of dollars on stuff we may not need  but we need to make sure we have a plan B," said Supervisor Das Williams.

The lease would be for up to 18-months at $39,600 a month once the building is in use.

 Assistant County Executive Officer  Barney Melekian says, " that would only occur if the entire hospital system within the county was overwhelmed."

North County patients would also have a possible site in San Luis Obispo County in an agreement that has been discussed but not formally executed.

"They have agreed in principal that any over flow patients from the North County could go to their facility.  In addition we are exploring a couple of other avenues," said Melekian.

Many counties are working out ways to handle an increase that could be beyond their capacity.

"Today marks the 29th day we that have been on the monitoring list," said Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso.

One county supervisor, not favoring heavy restrictions, said he wasn't  as worried about the virus like many others.

"It's a decision  think that each  individual has to make as to  how much risk they want to take to see if they can get it and I've kinda been hoping I could get it," said Supervisor Peter Adam.

More push back came on the phone from public comment.

Tom Becker called in to the meeting and said, "I see people out here that own restaurants and nightclubs, and you're crushing them. You're crushing them with this shut down. Gavin Newsom is crushing people and it is all for nothing. We all are going to get this virus. Every single last one of us."

Also in public comment Anna Marie Gott said not enough enforcement was taking place to provide spacing at restaurants and walkways in areas where there's been an expansion for outside dining. She said the six-foot required walkways and distances were often overlooked for a closer set up.

Health officials say with the Covid-19 numbers no longer flattening out as they were weeks ago, your best defense is to keep your distance if you go outside and make sure you have a mask on or at the ready if you need one. You will also be seeing more signs  and public service announcements just about everywhere you go."

There's also a campaign from the North County that's expanding with prominent citizens,  elected officials, and students posing with their quote about wearing a mask.

They show up in community public service campaigns and include several images such as Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, Chumash Chairman Kenneth Kahn and Supervisor Joan Hartman. Many more are expected in the weeks ahead.

 It's in an area where cases in the agricultural community are of the highest concern.
Do-Reynoso says, "As of yesterday 14 percent of our total cases in the county can be attributed to farm workers.   If we just look at the total cases in Santa Maria 20 percent of those l cases in Santa Maria can be attributed to farm workers."

For more information go to: COVID-19 update

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and KCOY 12 Central Coast News.