As Santa Barbara County moves toward a gradual reopening of the economy, the Public Health Department reported 13 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 at its Friday press conference. 

So far, Santa Barbara County has had 1,649 cases, with 971 of those from the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. 

Of the cases reported Friday, three were from Santa Barbara, eight from Santa Maria, one from Lompoc and one from the unincorporated areas of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama or Guadalupe. The county doesn’t state specifically where the cases from those areas originate. 

In Santa Barbara County, 12 people have died from the coronavirus.

“Now, more businesses are opening everyday,” said Gregg Hart, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. “Encouraging signs are everywhere, but with this new opportunity there is also great risk. If we are not careful, this new activity could lead to an outbreak of the virus.”

Officials are in a wait-and-see mode for the next week or so as health officials wait to see whether there is a rise in cases after last week’s partial reopening of dine-in restaurants, retail stores, hair salons and other places that have been closed since mid-March. It takes about 14 days for the coronavirus to incubate.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation hard, forcing governors throughout the country to order stay-at-home policies and require people to stay at least 6 feet apart in public. The shutdown has devastated the economy and forced a near 15 percent unemployment rate in April. 

In Santa Barbara County, the social distancing efforts seemed to work. Despite the outbreak at the federal prison, the fears of overcrowded hospitals never materialized. The combination of the decline in postive tests and increased pressure from businesses led a movement toward a gradual reopening. 

“We have gone through a fast-paced change in our way of life over the past week,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer. 

Santa Barbara even rushed to close State Street to cars and open it to pedestrians and bicyclists, to allow restaurants to move their tables to the sidewalks. 

Ansorg said on Friday that even though more places are partially open, there’s still a danger when gathering inside.

“The opening of restaurants for dine-in, as well as retail stores, barber shops and places of worship, however, poses a higher risk of virus spread due to the nature of many of these activities,” Ansorg said. “At this point, I strongly believe we need to pause for another week or two and work in order to assess the impact of these newly opened activities on the spread of the virus in our area.”

Ansorg also urged people to continue to wear masks whenever inside a public building. The masks, he said, protect a person from spreading the virus, even if they don’t know that they have it.

“If I were to carry the virus without having symptoms, I could actually infect somebody else, and the virus gets transmitted through respiratory excretions and obviously when we laugh, or sing or breathe very heavily, those droplets travel further than if you are breathing at a normal rate,” Ansorg said. “But it is really a protection for my surroundings.”

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