Leaders from communities in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe have launched a campaign urging residents to wear masks in order to protect their neighbors as businesses slowly reopen in Santa Barbara County.
Gathering at Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center on Wednesday, leaders urgently expressed the need for county residents to "Protect. Respect. Wear Your Mask."
Speakers included Mayor of Santa Maria Alice Patino, Mayor of Lompoc Jenelle Osborne, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Glenn Morris, Allan Hancock College President Dr. Kevin Walthers, and President and CEO of Marian Regional Medical Center Sue Andersen.
As more businesses in Santa Barbara County prepare to reopen or expand their services, pending approval from the state, public health officials have urged residents to continue hygienic practices.
"The timing of this campaign is really on time. As we have the opportunity to begin to support our small businesses and restaurants and as we bring our people back to work, it's critical that we do that in a way that maximizes the potential for success," Morris said.
The city of Santa Maria launched a $2.8 million street improvement project this week that will repair the concrete along nearly three miles of city roads.
The campaign was started earlier in the month as a collaboration between North County leaders and administrators at Hancock College, according to Hancock spokeswoman Lauren Milbourne.
Since then, it has grown to include other county leaders such as hospital representatives and members of local school districts.
Morris and other leaders said the small price of wearing a mask in public is worth the outcome of being able to keep businesses open.
"The last thing any of us want is for cases to spike again and for us to have to move backward, and have to re-institute some of the restrictions and closures we've been living with for the past couple of months," he said.
Patino spoke to how wearing a mask can also protect people who are especially susceptible to the virus.
"We've never been through this before, so it's not like we have a road map to follow. But it's so important... to put a mask on or some kind of face covering, not just for yourself, but for other people, for respect for other people," she said.
Masks are not mandated to be worn in public in the county, but public health officials said the possibility has been considered.
"It’s a very serious discussion that we are having on a daily basis," Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.