By Raiza Giorgi

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to send Gov. Gavin Newsom a letter asking him to amend the purple tier restrictions against churches and places of worship and make them equal to the restrictions of retail. 

Santa Barbara County moved back to the most-restrictive tier status in California’s reopening system Monday along with a number of other counties, as Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said now 31 counties are in the purple again during her COVID-19 briefing at the supervisors meeting Tuesday morning. 

According to the County’s new Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the purple tier means that indoor operations of fitness centers and gyms, restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters, wineries and tasting rooms, family entertainment centers, aquariums, card rooms, museums and zoos are not allowed. 

Indoor retail can retain a 25% capacity, and bars, breweries and distilleries can be open as long as they are outside and selling food with all alcohol purchases. 

Do-Reynoso said there are now 10,612 confirmed cases with 133 deaths. Of those cases there are currently 255 active with eight of those in the Santa Ynez Valley. There are currently 15 cases in the hospital with five in the ICU, according to the Public Health statistics. 

“I didn’t hear justification from Dr. Do-Reynoso though of why you can’t hold a church service at the same capacity as a retail establishment,” said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “I think it sends a bad message to send churches and places of worship back outside especially moving into the colder and wetter months.” 

He added that he passes by Costco every day and there are always long lines to get in and if people can stand in line to shop they should be allowed to go to their place of worship and quietly pray. 

The four public speakers lamented the step backwards and said the county should stand up to the governor for changing the rules yet again. 

“I get some of you (supervisors) agree with him politically and don’t want to disagree and get punished financially like others that have stood up to him, but these businesses will not be around much longer,”  said Andy Caldwell, representing the Coalition of Agriculture, Business and Labor (COLAB). “I wish you would push back. I am not a COVID denier, but the hospital and death rates are the only two criteria that matter.” 

Caldwell said Newsom has arbitrary standards and is constantly changing the rules which only set up the county for failure. 

“The private sector is dying and please DO SOMETHING,” Caldwell implored. 

The California Labor Market Information Division released its September 2020 report, and revealed that economic recovery has largely stalled, with unemployment rate improving very little, from 8.7 percent in August to 8.4 percent in September, according to the latest economic information released by the Economic Development Collaborative. 

Another speaker, Renee O’Neill, said people should definitely ‘muggle up’ and wear a mask, but the governor was hypocritical for attending a large party in Napa. 

“We have always pulled together as Americans during trying times,” O’Neill said. 

Terry Strickland said the county staff has continuously gotten a paycheck during the pandemic and they have no idea how people are struggling. 

“Cases going up means nothing. My husband is a virologist and he says that cases don’t make a difference and we are not in a pandemic mode,” Strickland said. “You (supervisors) need to stand up for the people of THIS county and push back. You’re elected to represent us and our constitutional rights are getting squished by you.” 

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the governor implemented the restrictions because he feared there was another spike beginning like the one in mid-summer. 

“We are being asked to wear masks and avoid each other; what side of that effort are we on. Do we stay the course or quit because we are tired,” Hart said. 

First District Supervisor Das Williams said he understood the frustration, but the county does not make up the regulations and they come from the state level. 

“I agree we need to limit transmission and it’s frustrating how things are changing, but the governor took responsibility for his actions and didn’t defend himself,” Williams said. 

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam disagreed with the restrictive strategy. 

“I have been arguing this since March, rather than trying to manage the most vulnerable, we are acting like everyone has an equal chance of dying which isn’t true,” he said. “We have identifiable comorbidities but we won’t talk about them. People need to make their own choices and we need to trust people instead of being big government and everyone’s mother.” 

Adam asked Do-Reynoso what the flu death rates are, to which she said she didn’t have that data available and would get back to him. 

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the county has been successful in keeping the rates down, and people have to keep the faith.

“We are being told that the vaccine will be available to most Americans by spring, which means we just have to get through a few months. This won’t last forever,” Hartmann said. 

The vote was 3 – 2 with Hart and Hartmann voting no against writing to Newsom asking churches to be the same standards as retail.