This week, Governor Newsom announced changes to his criteria for counties to be able to move more quickly through Stage II of his reopening plan—although no counties can move past Stage II into Stage III until the governor authorizes that action. Following his announcement, our Public Health director is sending in our attestation that Santa Barbara County meets the criteria.

The new criteria and the county’s standings are as follows:

• Hospitalization rates have not increased by more than 5 percent in the past week. Our seven-day average of daily percent change is 2.2 percent.

• The county has fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 residents for at least 14 days, or a rate of positive coronavirus tests has dropped below 8 percent. We have 3.5 percent of the community testing positive—the state authorized the removal of inmate positive cases at the Lompoc Federal Prison because they are not going out into the community and we are monitoring the staff at the prison.

• Protection of essential workers: availability of disinfectant supplies and protective gear.

• Testing capacity: minimum daily testing of 1.5 per 1,000 residents.

• Containment capacity: At least 15 contract tracers per 100,000 residents.

• Ability to temporarily house at least 15 percent of county residents experiencing homelessness.

• Hospital capacity: county or regional capacity to accommodate a minimum surge of 35 percent.

• Vulnerable populations: skilled nursing facility must have more than a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand for staff and ongoing procurement from non-state supply chains.

• Triggers for adjusting modifications: metrics that serve as triggers for either slowing the pace through Stage II or tightening modifications.

The following businesses will be allowed to reopen after the state accepts our attestation that we meet the criteria, and after the business fills out a self-attestation online (which will be available after the state accepts our own attestation) that they are able to meet our requirements:

• “Destination retail” including shopping malls and swap meets

• Personal services, limited to car washes and tanning facilities

• Office-based businesses (telework is still strongly encouraged)

• Dine-in restaurants (our county is working on a program to allow restaurants to spread out beyond their own footprint to have adequate distancing)

The guidance that businesses will have to attest to in order to reopen can be found in our county’s Reopening in Safe Environment (RISE) Guide—available online at recoverysbc.org/the-rise-guide and starting on page 42—including links to state guidance and our own local guidance laid out there by sector.

This is important: if you own or are in a leadership position at a business that is not yet included in those allowed to reopen, I highly encourage you to get very familiar with the guidelines and prepare your place of business now so you can quickly reopen when the time comes.

While this is exciting news for some, I also want to acknowledge that this is anxiety-producing for others who may fear that we are taking steps too soon. Personally, I think this is good news for everyone.

Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have been very cautious in their handling of this pandemic. He took swift and comprehensive action early which was critical in us getting an early handle on the virus and keeping California’s infection and death rate per 100,000 residents substantially lower than most other states.

I hope that those who have supported his approach to the pandemic thus far will have faith that the governor and the CDPH would not have altered their reopening requirements unless it was in the public health interest. Our Santa Barbara County Public Health director and officer also agree with the criteria the state laid out. You can watch their presentation at the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting online.

Additionally, our board adopted the county’s RISE Guide, which lays out the guidance and expectations for businesses and other entities if they are to reopen at the appropriate time. It’s a scientific based plan that was led by medical professionals in coordination with local business leaders and economic stakeholders. In the opening letter from the medical professionals who drafted the plan, they acknowledge “the long-term health and safety of our residents requires us to safely and methodically reopen our communities while protecting vulnerable populations and ensuring the readiness of our healthcare system.”  

Our country—and our county—has experienced pervasive income inequality for decades and it has had a substantial effect on the health of those living in poverty. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this and shone a light on the devastating effects of allowing such poverty to exist to those who have not experienced the impacts firsthand. Both the LA and the New York Times have reported extensively on this subject.

A shameful fact is that “just stay at home” is a privilege that most people living in poverty—or on the cusp of poverty—just don’t have, even with government assistance. That being said, those that do have the privilege to stay home or work from home without economic hardship or consequence, should absolutely continue to do that to the extent possible, and should also visit local businesses as they begin to reopen, at a safe distance and wearing facial covering to protect the workers and others.

We have been extraordinarily effective in flattening the curve in keeping our local coronavirus pandemic manageable because the public has voluntarily followed the rules. We have not had enough law enforcement personnel available to force folks to stay at home or to stay six feet apart when they are not home. People have chosen to do this for the greater good. I have absolute faith in this community to continue to keep this up even as we begin to reopen segments of our economy. We can keep each other safe—both by preventing the spread of the coronavirus and by doing what we can as individuals to reverse the impacts of life-damaging poverty.

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