County OKs outdoor dining, leisure stays at hotel, barbershops, salons
The stay-at-home order has ended.
The change represents progress with COVID-19 numbers and Intensive Care Unit capacity, and it means economic relief for businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
California health officials lifted the order Monday for Santa Barbara County and the rest of Southern California, along with the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley. That means restaurants can again have outdoor dining and barbershops and hair and nail salons can reopen.
The change also means museums, aquariums and zoos in Southern California can resume their outdoor operations.
All of that is allowed with Santa Barbara County remaining in the purple or most restrictive tier. A county Public Health order, which explained the county is following the previous purple tier rules, takes effect this morning.
Under that order, leisure travel can resume at hotels.
The drive-in theaters in Goleta and Santa Maria, which were allowed to remain open during the lockdown, can continue to show movies. Outdoor fitness classes continue to operate.
Restrictions that remain in place include the closure of indoor gyms and indoor movie theaters.
Under the purple tier, shopping centers can open indoors with 25 percent capacity, but food courts must remain closed.
Retail outlets and grocery stores can operate at 25 percent capacity.
Family entertainment centers can reopen their outdoor operations with modifications.
“This is a long-awaited day for Santa Barbara County’s hard-hit hospitality industry,” said Visit Santa Barbara President/CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes.
“We are grateful to our public officials for lifting some of the restrictions that have taken a heavy toll on so many local workers and struggling businesses,” she said in a statement. “Our community finally can start to get back to work and do what they do best with COVID-19 protocols in place. They are eager to safely welcome back residents and visitors to our restaurants, wineries, retail stores, lodging properties and other attractions.”
Remaining closed are bars, breweries and distilleries where no meals are provided. Sports still can’t have audiences.
In addition to the end of the regional stay-at-home order, the limited stay-at-home order, which limited nonessential activities between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., also expired.
In other breaking COVID-19 news, the state is expected to make a decision by today about when essential workers will start getting vaccinated, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, told the News-Press.
“We’re in constant communication with the state and want our essential workers to stay well,” Dr. Ansorg said Monday. “I will be on the phone with the state health department later tonight (Monday). Stay tuned. The answer is imminent.”
If Santa Barbara County could deliver 7,000 vaccinations a week, essential workers could start getting the vaccine as early as mid-April, Dr. Ansorg said.
He noted residents and staff have been vaccinated at all 16 of the skilled nursing facilities in Santa Barbara County.
Vaccinations continue for healthcare workers and residents 75 and older.
During recent weekend drive-through clinics outside Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, Cottage Health vaccinated 1,500 people — healthcare workers and residents 75 and older, Dr. David Fisk, the nonprofit’s medical director for infection control and prevention, told the News-Press. He said Cottage Health would be involved when vaccinations start for those in the 65-75 age group.
The question is when.
Vaccinations have started for those 65 and older in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but Dr. Ansorg said those counties have the advantage of having large health systems such as Kaiser, which receive doses directly from the federal government. Dr. Ansorg said Santa Barbara County, which could use sites such as Earl Warren Showgrounds for large vaccination events, needs more dosages of the vaccine.
If the county can vaccinate at least 1,000 people a day, the county could start vaccinating people in the 65-75 age group by the end of February, Dr. Ansorg said.
He said more than 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given in the county.
Dr. Ansorg said side effects to the vaccines — chills, fevers, sore arms — have been minor and not long lasting.
He added he believed herd immunity could be achieved if 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.
Dr. Ansorg said the more contagious variant from Britain — B.1.1.7 — shows the importance of the vaccine, but noted the variant is not a concern at this point because of the low number of cases.
On Monday, the CDC reported there were 90 known cases related to B.1.1.7 in California, as well as one case in Oregon and one case in Washington state. The CDC reported a total of 293 B.1.1.7-related cases in the U.S. (See cdc.gov.)
Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the variant may be about 30 percent more deadly than previous versions of COVID-19.
In Southern California, the stay-at-home order was lifted after a steady decline in the use of Intensive Care Units. The ICU patient total fell below 4,400 for the first time since Dec. 29.
Even so, the end of the stay-at-home order came as a surprise to Cottage Health’s Dr. Fisk, even though he got an inkling that the order could be lifted.
“There have been some slight increases in regional ICU capacity, but I was surprised it was lifted as soon as it was,” Dr. Fisk, who’s also a Sansum Clinic infectious disease physician, said.
Dr. Ansorg said he believes state officials were surprised as well by the improvement with ICU numbers. The stay-at-home order was lifted after the available capacity rose above 15 percent, and the end of the order comes after improvement in the number of COVID cases.
Dr. Ansorg said the end of the order means the hospital system in Southern California is no longer at risk of collapsing. He credited the progress to the restrictions during the order.
Dr. Ansorg said the end of the order, which was in place for seven weeks, is great news for the economy, but he also noted, “It does not mean the pandemic is over by any means.
“We will shout this from the rooftop: We’re not out of the woods,” he said.
“We have to stay vigilant. We have to wear masks. We have to be vaccinated whenever we can get vaccinated,” Dr. Ansorg said.
Dr. Fisk said the lifting of the order has little immediate impact for Cottage Health. “But it does have potential downstream impact if people relax their physical distancing and start congregating more in closed spaces because there will be more cases. We definitely remain at a very vulnerable point in this pandemic, and the majority of our community members are at very much the same risk of COVID today as they were a week ago.
“I don’t think we know if the worst is behind us,” Dr. Fisk said, but noted the post-holiday surge has appeared to have let up a little. He said increased gatherings of individuals from different households could make the caseload worsen and emphasized the importance of following COVID-19 guidance and achieving high vaccination numbers.
Dr. Fisk said he isn’t worried about the resumption of outdoor dining and haircuts as long as social distancing is maintained and masks are worn.
“We’re nowhere near having the percentage of our population vaccinated to stem the tide of this spread,” he said. “If people relax the protective measures now, the epidemic will worsen.”
Dr. Ansorg said Santa Barbara County is at 75 per 100,000 new cases a day, which is 10 times more than it had before the start of the holiday surge. To get into the less restrictive red tier, the county must see a decrease to fewer than seven per 100,000 cases.
Before the holiday surge, Santa Barbara County was in the red tier.
Dr. Ansorg said he thought the county could return to the red tier as early as six weeks from now if people follow COVID-19 guidance and get vaccinated when they can. Among other things, the red tier would allow indoor gyms and indoor movie theaters to reopen.
And the public health officer predicted this summer will seem more normal than the last one.
“But it won’t look like pre-COVID. There will still be a lot of mask wearing and avoidance of huge crowds. I don’t see anybody going to a stadium for a game or a big concert.”