How ’bout this weather? I know we need rain, but this is my kind of February!

Noozhawk drew an audience of 101,121 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics, and longtime readers know that this column recaps the Top 5 stories during that period.

My take on those topics is my opinion, and I write these weekly Best of Bill columns in my civic capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher, not as a reporter. Or a doctor or an epidemiologist.

Trigger warning: I’m not masking my words this week.

1. State Officials Announce End to COVID-19 Mask Mandate in Indoor Public Places

The SCIENCE of COVID-19 hasn’t really changed after more than two years of public health chaos but the political science sure has.

The speed with which coronavirus restrictions are collapsing — specifically, gratuitous masking requirements — has been breathtaking. In fact, you’re at risk of whiplash if you happen to be standing too close to the politicians who championed them until about a minute ago.

On Feb. 7, California — followed three days later by lagging indicator Santa Barbara County — became the latest government to announce an end to its universal mask mandate for indoor public places.

As our Serena Guentz reported, the state Department of Public Health said the requirement would be revoked as of the arbitrary date of Feb. 15.

“The current hospital census is still over capacity, but the dramatic surge in cases and hospitalizations due to the highly infectious Omicron variant over the last two months has declined significantly,” according to a statement on the agency’s website.

“Californians are also increasingly knowledgeable about how to protect themselves and their loved ones with effective masks when there may be risk of COVID-19 exposure.”

Masks will still be required for the unvaccinated, as well as everybody — vaxxed or unvaxxed — in health- and long-term care facilities, public transportation, jails and prisons, and homeless shelters.

Of course, children in K-12 schools and child-care centers will also still be covered by the ongoing mask requirements. There’s no hurry there; they’re too young to vote.

If we’re being honest, a trait that has been in short supply since China first unleashed the coronavirus on the world, I think it was the Omicron variant that finally pierced the narrative. For too long, the remarkably stubborn “consensus” was that zero risk is the only acceptable risk in the fight against this invisible, highly contagious opponent.

Having endured more than two years of inconsistent and contradictory decrees by elected officials and unelected public health bureaucrats — as well as countless examples of brazen hypocrisy by many of them — the public finally realized that, no matter what we do, some version of the coronavirus will break through.

As with the flu, vaccinations, booster shots, previous infections and masks can only minimize the risk for the vast majority of the population. COVID-19 is endemic, but most of us — as in more than 98% of us — can and will live with that.

Now in the third year of continuous crisis, politicians and public health authorities owe us a deep, forthright and transparent review of their policies and leadership.

There must be a reckoning for choices that were made — those that had immediate consequences, like nursing home deaths and economic ruin, and those we’ll be dealing with for decades to come, like the lost years of elementary education that our children can’t make up and the mental health toll that affects us all.

There will be a next time, but we can’t be doing this again.

2. Seriously Injured Man Rescued from Beach Below More Mesa Near Goleta

More Mesa rescue

Mutual aid on More Mesa Beach. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

An intensive rescue operation was mobilized at midday Feb. 9 after a seriously injured man was discovered on the beach below More Mesa Preserve east of Goleta.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report, Santa Barbara County firefighters and sheriff’s deputies were dispatched around 12:25 p.m. to the beach, roughly midway between Mockingbird Lane and Orchid Drive. Passersby had called 9-1-1 to say it looked as if a man had fallen or jumped from the bluffs above.

Once emergency personnel reached the remote site, authorities said, they determined the man had self-inflicted injuries.

Fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said crews determined that a helicopter was the best option to get the man to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and they called in air support.

Evidently, Santa Barbara County’s fleet of helicopters was indisposed, so a Ventura County helicopter flew to the rescue, landing on the beach to collect the patient.

The man’s identity and medical condition were not disclosed.

Click here for suicide prevention resources that are available 24/7.

Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness Access Line counselors can be reached at 888.868.1649 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open at 800.273.8255.

3. Local Restaurants Forced to Cut Hours Amid COVID-19-Related Staffing Shortages

Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery

Come back another day. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Coronavirus caseloads may have crested after the latest variant scare, but the economic catastrophe shows no signs of subsiding — especially in the hard-hit restaurant industry suffering from severe staffing shortages.

Desperate restaurant owners are cutting hours, reducing capacity, resuming takeout-only service, and even closing on days when not enough workers are available.

Alison Hardey, owner of Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery, is all-too familiar with the challenges. She recently cut a another day off the schedule at her Goleta store, at 7060 Hollister Ave., Suite 105, in Hollister Village Plaza.

“It’s too costly to be open when you don’t have enough staff,” Hardey told our Josh Molina in explaining the reduced days, now Wednesday through Sunday.

“This is the wave of the future,” she added. “I don’t see it changing.”

It’s also not exclusively a restaurant problem, said Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,200 members from Carpinteria to Goleta.

“The customers are coming back at a pace that we are willing to absorb, but I have several business that cannot open because they don’t have staff,” she said. “It’s a huge issue.”

The issue is commonly blamed on poor pay, lack of benefits and perceived higher health risks from customer-service jobs, but it’s not that simplistic.

Other obstacles include vaccination and mask mandates, the swift contagiousness of the Omicron variant, quarantining, child care and public school problems, automated government “stimulus” checks, out-of-control inflation and record-high gas prices.

“It’s people just making major life changes because life changed so dramatically for everyone,” Miller said.

4. Big-Rig Crash Leads to Shutdown of Highway 101 in Carpinteria

Highway 101 traffic jam

Not so fast. (Caltrans photo)

A big rig crash on Highway 101 in Carpinteria shut down southbound traffic for several hours on Feb. 5.

As our Janene Scully reported, there were no apparent injuries in the wreck, which occurred around 10:30 a.m. on the overcrossing near the intersection of Padaro and Santa Claus lanes.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the southbound semi truck lost its front axle and a tire when it slammed into a guardrail on the outside shoulder. The collision also caused a large volume of diesel fuel to spill from the truck, the CHP said.

The crash brought traffic to a standstill as motorists were detoured to surface streets between the new Sheffield Drive exit in Montecito and Santa Claus Lane, where they could get back on the highway.

The CHP is investigating the circumstances of the crash.

Five days later, on the morning of Feb. 10, two separate, multivehicle collisions and a gas spill again blocked Highway 101 traffic through Carpinteria.

As our Giana Magnoli reported, a northbound crash shut down traffic near the Casitas Pass Road exit ramp around 10:50 a.m. while a second crash stalled things on the southbound side near Linden Avenue, less than a half-mile to the west.

Both wrecks were cleared by early afternoon, the CHP said.

5. Crash Shuts Down Part of Las Positas Road in Santa Barbara

A vehicle collision with a utility pole shut down part of Santa Barbara’s Las Positas Road the morning of Feb. 6. It took a couple of hours for crews to clear the wreckage and reinstall downed power lines that had toppled across the roadway.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report, the crash occurred just after 7:30 a.m. in the 2400 block of Las Positas, which is just north of Calle Real on the east side of Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Chris Payne said the street was closed between Calle Real and Baldwin Road.

The driver was not injured in the crash, which remains under police investigation.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Santa Barbara Residents Arrested in Connection with Double Homicide Near Goleta.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Waking Ned Devine: Dead Man ‘Propped Up’ by Buddies in Attempt to Collect Pension at Irish Post Office.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

It turns out that @sadiethealaskanmalamute can be quite talkative if she wants to be. The never-before-heard evidence is in my Instagram feed this past week.

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Americans Held Hostage: Day 165

It’s been 165 days since the United States abandoned as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens and green-card holders in the panicked pullout from Afghanistan — in spite of President Joe Biden’s emphatic statement that none would be left behind. After months of sitting on its hands, the State Department apparently is finally lifting a finger to help clean up the mess it made. Sort of.

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Watch It

A boy, a bison calf, and the thrill of the chase. HT to Best of Bill reader Natalie McCormick.

(@portalboigordo video)

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.