Supervisor Gregg Hart addresses how county is trying to help local businesses amid the pandemic
The road back to what was considered normal life before COVID-19 has been in a constant state of flux.
Any spike in infection rates could force Santa Barbara County to take one step back from reopening the economy just as it takes one step forward.
This happened during the past week, when a spike in cases led to Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing that businesses like gyms and hair salons in many counties, including Santa Barbara, needed to close their doors again, not long after they reopened.
According to Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, Santa Barbara County is continuing to find ways of helping local businesses adjust to the current circumstances. The most apparent economic recovery measure taken thus far is allowing businesses like restaurants to move their operations into the public right of way.
“We have streamlined the process to open businesses in the public right of way and private parking lots so that businesses can move their operations outdoors,” he said.
Though moving seating areas outside seems to be helping many restaurants and bars on State Street, businesses like hair salons and barbershops don’t have this option. As the News-Press reported, The Barber Shop at 1233 State St. responded to the governor’s reclosure order by putting two barber chairs in front of the business.
According to shop owner Jorge Salgado, this was successful, while it lasted. After a day of cutting hair outside, a member of the Santa Barbara City Attorney’s Office told him he had to stop his outdoor operation until he got an outdoor license from the State of California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.
Mr. Salgado said he was surprised by the rule and that he had “never heard of them doing that.”
Mr. Hart told the News-Press that local concerns like those cosmetology businesses are experiencing are consistently shared with the California Department of Public Health during twice-a-day conference calls.
“We are trying to urge the governor and his team to take these real-life examples into consideration when they issue these orders,” he said.
At the local level, the supervisor said Santa Barbara County’s biggest challenge remains residents being mindful of their individual behavior. He encouraged them to continue focusing on ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If we can wear masks and maintain social distancing, we can keep businesses open,” he said.
Though Santa Barbara County is feeling pressure from supply chains struggling to keep up with California’s ramped-up demand for COVID-19 testing, thereby delaying tests and complicating contact tracing, Mr. Hart said the contact tracing that has occurred has resulted in key findings about how the coronavirus most easily spreads. The virus is most likely to be transmitted between people not wearing masks spending 15 minutes or more together, interacting at a distance of six feet or less, in indoor areas.
What this means is that one is at greatest risk of getting COVID-19 from someone they work with or know well.
“That kind of behavior is not happening in stores and it’s not happening in public, it’s happening at home and it’s happening at work,” Mr. Hart said.
Close-quarter transmission of COVID-19 also means that incarcerated individuals are at high risk of getting infected with the coronavirus, evidenced by the outbreak at the federal prison complex in Lompoc.
On Thursday, Mr. Hart and his fellow supervisors held a special board meeting to receive a report on ways of reducing the average daily population in the Santa Barbara County Jail.
One method of keeping the jail population low has been reducing bail to $0. Though this was initially adopted to comply with the Judicial Council of California’s Emergency Order 4, the county chose to maintain $0 bail after the JCC rescinded the order.
Sheriff Bill Brown critiqued maintaining $0 bail on the grounds that 12% of the arrestees who have been released on $0 bail have been re-arrested for new offenses. He suggested that repeat offenders shouldn’t get out on $0 bail.
When asked for his view on $0 bail, Mr. Hart said continuing the policy is “critical to retaining a low census in the jail and to prevent the outbreak” of the novel coronavirus.
“We don’t want what happened in Lompoc happening in our jail,” he said.