Santa Barbara businesses make plans as mask mandate ends
What will life look like on Tuesday?
That question has been looming in the minds of many California residents since Gov. Gavin Newsom chose June 15 as the date to dissolve the state’s tier system.
Tuesday marks that long awaited day, yet there still remains some confusion among business owners and managers about what exactly will be allowed after the state disbands its long-standing system of restrictions.
For one thing, the state has announced it will align with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on mask guidance, meaning that fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to go maskless in most settings. This excludes public transit, schools and childcare facilities, health care settings, correctional facilities and homeless shelters, which will require that everyone wear a mask no matter their vaccination status.
According to the state’s new guidance, unvaccinated individuals will still be required to wear masks in indoor public settings and businesses, such as retail stores, restaurants, theaters and family entertainment centers.
While the new guidance will rid the state of its mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, the state is allowing businesses the option to decide how they will handle masking in their establishments.
Businesses essentially have three options — provide information to all patrons about vaccination requirements and allow customers to self-attest that they are fully vaccinated; implement a vaccine verification system to determine whether individuals must wear a mask; or require all patrons to wear a mask.
In addition to the change in mask guidance, the state will also disband all capacity and social distancing restrictions come Tuesday.
According to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, Santa Barbara County will align with this guidance from the state starting on Tuesday. That effectively eliminates the need for a separate county health officer order to enact the state’s new policies.
“Our county health officer order will retire June 15, and everything will be according to the state health officer order and the state guidance,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press.
This has created some confusion among Santa Barbara business owners, who were tentatively planning for Tuesday’s statewide reopening.
A number of owners said they were waiting for the county to come out with new guidance. They explained they were unaware that the county would simply align with the state guidance.
John Dixon, the owner of Tri-County Produce, told the News-Press that his establishment will align with state and local guidance on Tuesday, and likely make masks optional for patrons who are fully vaccinated.
While he’s looking forward to the reopening, he said the change in guidance puts business owners in a difficult place as they now have to choose the method of masking that best serves their customers and employees.
“My hope is people will respect (the mask requirements) no matter where they shop and not look down on somebody for not wearing a mask or the opposite — looking down because somebody is wearing a mask,” Mr. Dixon told the News-Press. “Everyone is going to have their own different comfort levels, and if wearing a mask makes them comfortable, let them do that.”
He added, “I just hope everyone will get along when this mask mandate is no longer mandatory. It puts businesses in a difficult situation sometimes with customers who are upset that there are no masks and customers who are upset that there are masks.”
Other business owners plan to take a similar stance, allowing vaccinated customers the option to ditch their masks.
Sara Gehris, the owner of Santa Barbara Urban Flea Market on State Street, said as of Tuesday, masks will be optional for vaccinated customers of her store. Since opening her shop this past April, Ms. Gehris said the community has been very supportive, and she looks forward to serving more customers as California reopens.
“I am looking forward to the restrictions being lifted,” Ms. Gehris told the News-Press in an email. “I think it’s long overdue for California, and I just think everybody wants to get back to normal. I am excited and grateful to have the opportunity to open a very successful and thriving business in Santa Barbara after COVID.”
Still, other business owners say they plan to approach the new guidance one step at a time, without making too many changes to their current protocols.
Kyle Visin, a co-owner of Rise Up Fitness, said protocols at his gym will remain largely the same despite the state’s shifting guidance.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Visin and his staff created an outdoor workout space, where members could exercise in a safe, social distance setting outdoors. He said this outdoor model has been very successful for the gym, and though the mask guidance for vaccinated individuals indoors is changing, the experience at his gym will largely remain the same for right now.
Currently the gym does not require individuals working out in the outdoor studio to wear masks when they are at their own workout stations.
“For us, we’re really in no rush (to move inside),” Mr. Visin told the News-Press. “It doesn’t impact the quality of our classes, and our members do really like being outside.”
Keeping outdoor options available is a trend that will likely outlive the pandemic at local restaurants as well.
Joey Somerville, the general manager of Joe’s Cafe, said the expansion of outdoor seating has benefitted restaurants immensely during the pandemic. He’s hopeful it’s a trend his restaurant will hold on to as the world goes back to normal.
“From a bar and restaurant point of view, we’re very happy that outdoor dining has been so well accepted out here,” Mr. Sommerville told the News-Press.
Looking toward the summer, Mr. Sommerville said the timing of the state’s reopening aligns well with the restaurant’s bustling summer season. Since restaurants are typically busier in the summer, he’s hopeful that the restaurant will remain steady in the months to come.
While state officials are optimistic Tuesday’s reopening will spearhead the state’s economic recovery, various industry sectors in Santa Barbara are just starting to see some economic uptick after months of downturn.
Dr. Peter Rupert, the director of UCSB’s Economic Forecast Project, said employment remains down by 50% to 60% in the leisure and hospitality industry in Santa Barbara.
He added that labor shortages have plagued the industry.
But Dr. Rupert noted he believes once unemployment insurance goes away and the state fully reopens, the industry will likely see a quicker bounce back.
For the restaurant industry, recovery came quickly as outdoor dining expanded and the vaccination rate increased, according to Dr. Rupert. He noted that locals were really wanting to get back to dining out as restrictions loosened.
In terms of retail, Dr. Rupert said he expects the industry to see a comeback in the coming months and possibly even the expansion of newer businesses and boutiques.
Overall, Dr. Rupert said he believes Tuesday’s reopening will help to fuel Santa Barbara’s economic recovery in the months to come.
“I see the economy has the potential to come back very quickly mainly because we didn’t have a recession. We had a government-mandated closure,” Dr. Rupert told the News-Press.
“And then when the government allows us to reopen (this) week, I think we’ll start to see more businesses expanding.”
Under the state’s new guidelines that will take effect Tuesday:
- Fully vaccinated individuals can go maskless in most settings — excluding public transit, indoors in schools and childcare facilities, health care settings, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
- Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals will still be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings.
- Businesses can choose one of three options: Make masks optional for vaccinated patrons and allow customers to self-attest their vaccination status; create a vaccine verification system; or require all customers to wear masks.
- The state will disband all capacity and social distancing restrictions.