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Public Health official says Santa Barbara County ready to accelerate reopening of economy
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Public Health official says Santa Barbara County ready to accelerate reopening of economy

Santa Barbara County should be able to meet the criteria for accelerating the next phase of reopening the economy after lower-risk workplaces reopen Friday in response to the governor easing restrictions to control the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday.

Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso told supervisors the county is “solidly in the green” zones on four of the criteria, although in the yellow zone on four others, but by next week officials should be able to attest to meeting the governor’s criteria.

She said the governor is expected to release guidelines Thursday on what low-risk businesses can reopen Friday as well as more specific guidelines on how and which businesses could open in the next phase.

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“Knowing what we know today, without the guidelines being revealed, I think that our data puts us in a ready state,” Do-Reynoso said. “I think there are elements of the containment piece that we need to strengthen, but I think we’re in a good spot. … I think we’re in a good spot to proceed.”

First District Supervisor Das Williams asked about what would be considered low-risk businesses and wanted to know about about getting low-wage outdoor workers, who might not always qualify for public assistance or unemployment, back to work.

Lompoc High student Jennifer Ayala took out a $1,000 loan this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase a pig with the intent of selling it, ideally for a profit, at auction during this summer’s Santa Barbara County Fair. With the coronavirus outbreak threatening the likelihood of the fair, Ayala is now scrambling to find a buyer as soon as possible so she can repay that loan.

"You know, if you're a gardener, you don't really have to get close to anybody," Williams said. "It's an area of great levels of economic vulnerability and ... as a lay person, it seems an area of low risk. But I just ask that you take a look at it."

Do-Reynoso said determining what low-risk businesses can open in the county will depend on what the governor's guidelines are.

Although the report did not include specific estimated dates, the county is expected to have its roadmap for reopening ready by the end of next week and potentially delivered to the Board of Supervisors the following Tuesday.

Nancy Anderson, assistant county executive officer, said the county’s medical panel on Monday delivered a draft framework and standards for various business sectors to 13 stakeholder groups that are meeting informally this week and will provide feedback to the panel Friday or Saturday.

Once the feedback is considered and incorporated into the draft guidelines and standards, they will be published online at readysbc.org, where the public can submit comments about them.

The Public Health Department would then present the framework to the Board of Supervisors and additional public comment would be heard.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan, the state will move into the next stage of the coronavirus response by reopening such low-risk retail businesses as furniture, book, clothing, shoe, sporting goods and toy stores as well as associated manufacturing and supply chain businesses, Do-Reynoso said.

Retail businesses can be open for curbside pickup and delivery only, she said, and customers cannot do such things as try on shoes or clothing.

Offices, shopping malls and seated dining at restaurants can’t reopen Friday but could later as more businesses are phased in over time, a process that can accelerate in jurisdictions that meet the criteria.

Do-Reynoso said the county meets the criteria for test results, hospital surge capacity, contact tracing and personal protective equipment available.

But the data still puts the county in the “yellow zone” for total new cases, health-care worker infections, the hospitalization rate and the rate of patients placed in intensive care units.

“I find that downward trend of the blue line [representing the number of active cases] very reinforcing that we’re going to reopen soon,” 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said he was concerned about the criteria needed for reopening the economy.

“What disturbs me is that we now seem to be moving the goal posts,” Adam said. “We seem to be switching standards for reopening from the number of confirmed cases to a focus on the number of tests we can perform.

“This is going to lead to an artificial spike in documented cases,” he said. “Obviously, the more people that are tests, the more infections you will find.”

He added, “This was a medical emergency. Now it’s an economic emergency.”