Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce.
Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, thanked Santa Barbara County for responding to businesses’ concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photos)

It’s either the calm before the storm or the light at the end of the tunnel.

We won’t know for two weeks. 

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials and one of the region’s top business leaders expressed optimism that the recent partial openings of various community sectors are a good sign, and a result of the community’s successful social-distancing efforts in recent weeks.

“We’re pretty happy,” said Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, which recently merged with the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce. “This did feel like a step that we were really ready for. We hope to keep taking incremental steps forward.”

Memorial Day weekend saw the first significant opening for businesses since Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state shut down on March 19.

The state allowed restaurants to offer dine-in services, but with social distancing. At the same time, the city of Santa Barbara closed State Street over nine blocks from Haley to Sola streets, allowing people to gather and congregate in the middle of the roadway. 

The state is also allowing qualified counties, including Santa Barbara, to open places of worship and hair salons/barbershops, with modifications. Businesses must meet a self-certification process to gain approval from the county to re-open. 

“The business community applauds our local government’s response on many of our issues, including re-opening on Memorial Day weekend, outdoor expansions, and separating prison numbers from general population cases,” Miller said.

The Public Health Department on Wednesday announced 20 new cases of COVID-19.

Of those, 12 are in Santa Maria, five are in the city of Santa Barbara, one is in Lompoc; and one is in the unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey,  Cuyama, New Cuyama, and the city of Guadalupe.

The location of one case was pending.

The county did not announce new cases from the Lompoc Federal prison, which has been the source of a major outbreak.

Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said that of the 1,624 total COVID-19 cases in the county, 86 percent have fully recovered. 

Dr. Henning Ansorg, county public health officer, explained the county’s logic regarding requiring face coverings in businesses, workplaces and on public transportation for everyone except people under the age of 13, as of Tuesday.

He said that he does understand that there is conflicting scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face coverings.

“However, we also know that while we are waiting for science to give us a definitive answer, we are well-advised to use masks where appropriate because there is evidence that they can help to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by limiting droplets from the wearer,” Ansorg said. 

He said wearing a face covering alone is not the best way to prevent the spread, but in conjunction with social distancing, frequent handwashing and excellent hygiene, it is the most effective. 

Gregg Hart, Second District Santa Barbara County supervisor, said the county’s order to wear face coverings is appropriate.

“I recognize that some people feel that the mandatory face mask order is an intrusion on personal choice,” Hart said. “We are all collectively dealing with a very rapidly evolving public health crisis.

“I believe the new public health order requiring face coverings is an appropriate response to the reality that more businesses are opening and people are mixing together to a much greater degree than during the strict shutdown.”

Despite the general optimism about the direction the county is headed, Ansorg stressed that the situation could change quickly.

“Please remember, the virus pandemic is not over,” Ansorg said. “We watch for any upticks and warning signs for an increase in cases. This is important because the effect of our opening up on new COVID cases will only become apparent in two to three weeks. Let us all enjoy the gradual opening to a new normal.”

Also on Wednesday, the city of Santa Barbara said it would again ticket people who park for too long on city streets, beginning June 1. Downtown city parking lots will still offer parking for free.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.