The Santa Barbara County public health officer is allowing more businesses to open their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, but he doesn’t think you should go out more — yet.

“First, we say for two or three months to stay at home and do nothing, and all of a sudden everything is open, right? It’s confusing,” Dr. Henning Ansorg said. “In general terms, we are seeing an uptick in hospitalizations, not just in the Santa Maria area but also the Cottage (Hospital) area, so obviously we are getting a little concerned that people are taking this a little too lightly.

“It is still a real threat, even though it doesn’t feel that way so much because we are getting back to sort of new normal and it looks pretty lively when you walk down State Street in this new pedestrian area and everything. From the health perspective, it is a highly contagious virus that spreads easily from people to people, it spreads easily from healthy people and makes people sick. That’s the problem. That’s why we recommend these face coverings, definitely indoors and in stores, on public transportation.”

Santa Barbara County is moving into “Stage 3” of reopening under state guidelines, but large event venues, nightclubs and some personal care services remain closed, according to Assistant County Executive Officer Nancy Anderson.

Nail salons, tattoo parlors and other personal care services were going to reopen soon, but that is on pause because of the county increase in hospitalizations and other COVID-19 metrics, according to the Public Health Department.

Before reopening, businesses are required to make a COVID-19 prevention plan and self-certify that they can open safely.

As of Friday, 2,645 businesses in the county had submitted those self-certifications, including about 45 percent of the businesses in unincorporated areas, according to Anderson.

Overall, businesses have been proactive about planning for and following reopening guidelines, Ansorg said.

In his latest Health Officer Order, he noted that “the county has received repeated reports that some businesses have refused to comply with the state stay-at-home order and state guidance.”

The complaints have included hotels, large grocery stores and restaurants, Public Health Department spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz said.

Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg

Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg encourages people to continue to wear face coverings, maintain social distance and limit activities as much as possible because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)

“For most cases, a reopening ambassador will be sent to the site to assist and provide education,” she said. “If Environmental Health Services has purview over the facility, they may send a staff person out as well. In very limited circumstances, law enforcement will go out. No businesses have been cited to this point.”

Public Health officials, and the statewide stay-at-home order, don’t recommend traveling, although hotels and other tourism-related businesses have reopened.

“The more people mingle and mix and go places, the more the virus can travel with the humans, and because so many transmissions happen from healthy people, it’s really difficult to know. And at the same time, we sort of have to live with this because it’s not going to go away anytime soon and we cannot just be locked up forever. It’s a tightrope walk,” Ansorg said.

Regarding the countywide mandate for face coverings at businesses and workplaces, Ansorg said, “there are definitely signs that show its benefits, and I think ever since we implemented it, I think we have had pretty good success with limiting our severe cases. Unfortunately, now, three to four weeks after Memorial Day, when we became much more mobile and open again, we do have an increase in cases.

“We just have to be careful and not push our luck.”

As people try to evaluate the COVID-19 exposure risk for different activities, Ansorg’s advice is to have fewer people, and take it outside when possible. 

“I wish I could give you straighter guidelines, but it is really common sense,” he said. “Just because restaurants are open so businesses can find a new way of operating, doesn’t mean that now we can have big parties in our backyards.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.