Ambassadors help more than 4,000 county businesses reopen safely during COVID-19
Through partnerships, one-on-one consultation and a public health-centered mindset, county ambassadors have assisted more than 4,000 businesses in Santa Barbara County in safely reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
The county created a guide for businesses called RISE (Reopening In Safe Environment), where each business has to complete a series of tasks in order to demonstrate they can provide a safe environment for every customer, especially the most vulnerable populations.
The guide was developed by medical experts in conjunction with city leaders, elected officials, chambers of commerce, industry sectors, faith-based communities, representatives of essential workers and organizations that regularly work with minority and underserved populations.
Once the guide was created, a team of ambassadors set out to offer one-on-one help for each individual business and help them reopen safely and successfully.
“We didn’t know if it was going to be helpful or not to have the ambassadors,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, the chief quality care and strategy officer with the county Department of Behavioral Wellness. “They went out and it was incredibly effective. Within a couple of weeks, it was so effective that they kept going.”
She told the News-Press only a couple handfuls of ambassadors started in the unincorporated areas of the county because cities had their own process. Once it proved effective, the ambassadors divided and conquered all areas of the county.
After going over the initial guidelines (all involving social distancing, sanitizing, face coverings, and etc.), the ambassadors provide each business with a template to create their own custom COVID-19 protection plan consistent with current health orders.
The county provided guidelines specific to nearly 40 different business types, from agriculture and livestock to food packaging to hotels and lodging to museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums and many more.
Under each category, businesses can view the RISE guide, followed by a checklist in English and Spanish, and their specific COVID-19 Prevention Plan Template in English and Spanish as well.
Ms. Grimmesey said the ambassadors have dealt with every business, small and large. For businesses with only Spanish-speaking management and employees, the ambassadors held a forum to communicate the guidelines and requirements to them.
She said the ambassadors have even helped food trucks print their certifications because they didn’t have printers.
Businesses are required to post the industry specific checklist and the attestation at the business “to show your customers and employees you have reduced the risk and are open for business.”
To ensure all businesses follow guidelines, city or county officials from each business’s local jurisdiction can conduct a site visit any time.
“When they complete the attestation, that information goes into a database that we look at daily,” Ms. Grimmesey said. “It allows us to know who’s completed it and that they used the right industry. It may be confusing sometimes.”
She added that upon site visits, the ambassadors state they’re not in a role of code enforcement and they take an educational approach to make sure everyone’s familiar and educated.
“It’s been a neat process because many businesses have been able to form relationships with the ambassadors,” she said. “They can call and check in and get updated information.”
Ms. Grimmesey said that while RISE has obviously helped open the doors of businesses in crucial need, it’s also gone a step further for them.
“When we first launched the ambassadors going out, it was an opportunity to educate businesses on what’s needed to safely reopen,” she told the News-Press. “But, it also afforded the chance to just check in on the business and see how they’re doing. They’re going through a really, really hard time right now, so they have that human interaction of ‘Hey, how are you doing?’
“It’s a really good example of how our Santa Barbara community works together, helps one another, makes connections and ultimately builds us to where we want to be with a community that’s safe for everyone.”
For more information about the attestations or reopen a business, visit recoverysbc.org/reopen-your-business.